Translation is the art of failure

So – I’m in the habit of reading when I eat.  A book is ideal, but anything will do which is why I was browsing through an advertising insert from Pick & Pay during my lunch break the other day.


There was the usual assortment of pots, pans and brooms – and then I came across this strange device:  a Broodgraan Uitdeler.   I was a little disconcerted but read on.  Maybe everyone else knows what a Broodgraan Uitdeler is.   Then I found this:


I had always thought of it as a “gieter”.  But  that makes perfect sense.  “Watering Can” could, indeed be translated as “Natmaak Blikkie”.  Following the same logic, we have a “Elektriese Grasmaaier”:


“Lawn mower” could possibly become “Grasmaaier”, leaving aside the awkward fact that “maaier” in Afrikaans actually means “maggot”.   The hunt was on.  I scanned the entire supplement and was rewarded with a whole list of strange and unusual products.

Without cheating by looking at the pictures below, can you identify the following?

  • Beeldhoudery Bad Stel   (possibly some kind of body sculpting mousse?)
  • Gebosseleerde Tuis Mat
  • Grasperk Omruiming
  • Aansitter Krapsak
  • Ontskiet Deksel Bewarings Boks
  • Ophef Blik
  • Klosbesem en Wisser

All for sale at your neighbourhood Pick & Pay!

A little more scanning revealed that Young & Rubicam created this intriguing collection of mis-translations –   I would love to know  how this was done.   Translating via Google, maybe?

The second mystery is – why?  If they could not be bothered to get somebody who can actually speak Afrikaans to do the translation  – why not just leave it in English so that we can tell what the products are?

If you are still wondering what the above products are –

A “beeldhoudery bad stel” is rather disappointing:


The “gebosseleerde tuis mat”:


And this is a “ontskiet deksel bewarings boks”:


“Grasperk Omruiming ” – are instant fencing units.
“Aansitter Krapsak ” – is a set of hosepipe fittings.
“Ophef Blik” –  is a garbage can with a tilting lid.
“Klosbesem en Wisser” –  is a mop and squeegee set.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marc Hosten
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 09:54:00

    Good one, Masha. It’s really beyond shocking. I wonder how much Pick ‘n Pay paid its agency to publish this. It almost seems as if it was translated by some very bad software program. As a copywriter it makes me blush, to say the least!

  2. stratboy
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 12:25:03

    As someone working in the industry I feel embarrassed, as an Afrikaans consumer I feel outraged. Surely the agency can afford a bilingual dictionary from CNA/Exclusive Books in a R100m plus account?!

  3. mashadutoit
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 12:31:30

    I know, – It’s very strange. And if its really so difficult to translate “Watering Can” and “Lawnmower” why not rather just leave it in English? Half of the other adds were in English as it is, so it would not have seemed strange.

  4. x
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 14:00:36

    jong en juweel kom 😉

  5. Cobus Scholtz
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 18:38:21

    Illuminating! May Pick & Pay feel the shame shimmering all the way down the chain of command (i.e. whomsoever approved this drivel, if at all) and may Y&R be even more glaringly exposed for its insulting incompetence.

  6. pieter vd merwe
    Nov 17, 2009 @ 02:04:58

    wow! what a joke! Should they need a professional bilingual translator / copywriter for help, contact me!

  7. Marisa
    Nov 17, 2009 @ 22:43:29

    Aansitter krapsak… chortle.

  8. Jesse
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 20:45:57

    Wow. Shocking and funny. But mostly strange, that no-one noticed. Unless it’s some sort of advertising person joke.

    It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who reads those things while I’m eating.

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