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Max Planck magazine mistakenly runs brothel ad on cover December 11, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, Translation Sites.

This translation error makes the “out of office” message in Welsh pale in comparison. The Max Planck Institute, a well-respected German research institute, mistakenly ran an ad for a Chinese brothel on its cover page  while seeking to illustrate a special report on China with Chinese characters. The institute bought the picture of Chinese characters in good faith from a photo agency and had it checked by a Chinese speaker, who said it “looked good and didn’t appear to pose a problem.”

After it was published about five weeks ago on the cover page of the journal devoted to China, readers noticed that the text included a reference to an ad for “hot housewives in action” from a brothel in Northern China. Oops! That edition of the journal has since been recalled, and the institute has apologized to readers, a Max Planck spokeswoman said.

The institute quickly acknowledged their mistake and admitted they had not contacted a native speaker for verification. “To our sincere regret … it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker,” the institute said in an apology. “By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offense or embarrassment to our Chinese readers.”

If the institute hadn’t quickly admitted their fault in this, I could see this actually becoming the first case in which a “translator” might be sued – and rightly so. But obviously the person wasn’t a professional, because I would hope that a professional would have actually read and understood the text – native speaker or not.

For more information check out this article on the incident in German or this article in English. The English article is particularly informational and entertaining, particularly the last paragraph or two in which they talk about various forum comments.



1. Kevin Lossner - December 11, 2008

Well… I would call your attention to the statement “”Wir haben das Foto von einem Sinologen prüfen lassen”” from the institute’s spokesperson. So much for the reliability of German sinologists, but given what I see some German “experts” on English do with our language, I’m not surprised to see thnigs really go wrong with a language like Chinese 🙂

Heck, I don’t dare publish anything important in German without having it checked by a native, and I can’t imagine publishing something in a language I don’t understand without asking someone what it mean. Weren’t the editors even the least bit CURIOUS?

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