Translation fails and the language of love

Valentine’s Day offers strong proof that there is a universal language, the language of love, but what happens when translation difficulties throw a spanner in the works?


Even Cinderella, a love story which has been capturing children’s hearts for hundreds of years, may not be immune to translation issues. First mentioned in Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the story, the idea of a ‘pantoufle au verre’ or glass slipper quickly became synonymous with this fairy tale. However, there remains controversy as to whether a glass slipper was ever intended to be part of the story.

The confusion is the result of homophones, words that are pronounced the same (to a varying extent) but differ in meaning. The word for glass ‘verre’ sounds the same as ‘vair’ or squirrel fur. Balzac himself claimed that Cinderella’s slipper was far more likely to have been made of squirrel, a fur which only the upper class was allowed to wear, rather than glass. However, the glass slipper captured the imagination of children and adults alike and with today’s youth showing a strong interest in environmental concerns and animal welfare, it’s likely to remain the firm favourite for years to come!

Anyone hoping to take their loved one for a romantic meal as part of a weekend away will do well to check the menu before leaving their hotel. One letter can make all the difference as a Twitter user found out in Rome where she was entertained by the offer of a croissant and hood for breakfast. Swiftly deducing that the owners must have typed ‘cappuccio’ rather than ‘cappuccino’ into Google Translate, she was quick to share her find on Twitter where a search using the hashtag #translationfail reveals many other gems.

A Twitter user at a luxurious hotel in Kurdistan was just as surprised to find a dish of meat balls proudly labelled ‘Paul is dead.’ She surmised that, once again, a homophone was to blame. Meat ball in English sounds like ‘mayit baul’ in Arabic, or ‘Dead Paul.’ The tweet soon gained traction with thousands of likes and retweets. The hotel was no doubt embarrassed when the story was soon picked up by the Metro where it ran under the following eye-catching headline:

Wherever you are this Valentine’s Day, we hope that translations don’t let you down!

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