Accidentally mistranslating a word in a casual conversation or on a sign is typically seen as a funny situation that everyone can get a good laugh from. However, this is not always the case. There have been multiple moments in history that could have had a happier ending had it not been for a mistranslation.
One moment in history you may recall is the US bombing of Hiroshima that took place in August of 1945. When the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima it killed over 90,000 people from the explosion and from the radiation. This bombing occurred due to one misinterpretation of one word. The word “makusatsu” was translated to mean the Japanese were ignoring the US instead of that they were reserving comments from the US when the Japanese were given an ultimatum to surrender. The ignoring of the ultimatum led to it being meant that the Japanese were not going to surrender. This meant the US had to proceed with their bombing. Hundreds of thousands of lives were cost due to the mistranslation of one word.
Another mistranslation that affected medical history was between the English and Spanish languages. A man came into an American hospital and was extremely ill but could not explain to the doctor what was wrong with him in English. His family members kept saying he was “intoxicado”. This was translated to the doctors to mean he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which matched his symptoms. In reality the word “intoxicado” actually means poisoned, as his family thought he had severe food poisoning. This led to the doctors treating him for drug and alcohol use instead of realizing sooner that it was an intracereberal hemorrhage. The patient received a malpractice settlement of $71 million due to his treatment leaving him quadriplegic.
A little less serious than the previous two there was also an incident where the President of the United States, President Carter at the time, said some foolish things due to a poor translator. President Carter had visited Poland and relied on his translator to help him make a speech in the Polish language. What was meant to have been “when I left the United States” actually came out as “when i abandoned the United States. The second mistranslation was when he was trying to say “your desires for the future” but he actually said “your lusts for the future”. Needless to say the media had an entertaining time with those mistranslations.
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