Hw wud u fil if I rite lik dis, wil u undrstnd, prbbly not.

On some occassions, errors in translation, including some which are reckoned to be the worst in history, have even affected future events.


In 2006, according to the interpreter’s rendition, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. It was later revealed that what he actually said was “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”. Whatever one may think about this statement, it is clear that its impact was different from what the interpreter understood. In a region of the world as delicate as the Middle East, a mistake of this magnitude can have huge implications.


In 1976, U.S. president Jimmy Carter spoke to a Polish-speaking audience and opened his remarks by saying: “I left the United States this morning”. The interpreter’s rendition was: “When I abandoned the United States”. Those present laughed at the obvious mistake, but things got more complicated later during the speech when the president said that: “…I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future…” The rendition by the same interpreter was: “I desire the Poles carnally…” and then the interpreter went on to criticise the Polish constitution. Of course, these mistakes should never happen at this level, but sometimes they do.


There was also the famous blooper during Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the Polish Embassy in Moscow, when he was interpreted as saying, in reference to the United States and the West at the highest point of the Cold War: “We will bury you”. Now we all know that what he really said was: “We will outlast you”, and we all know of the consequences that this poor rendition generated in the period after the Second World War.

More about this next time.

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