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Off topic: Politicians' foreign language gaffes
Thread poster: Louise Souter (X)

Louise Souter (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 4, 2010

Does anyone known of any gaffes made by politicians as a result of poor translation/interpretation or cultural misunderstandings (preferably between French/Spanish and English).



Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
Swedish to English
+ ...
Blair and Jospin Jun 4, 2010

I've always got a giggle out of this story about Blair and Jospin:

"Tony Blair may sympathize: in the early days of his premiership, he attempted to show
off his linguistic skills by taking a joint conference with France’s then prime minister,
Lionel Jospin, reports The Times. When asked what he thought of Jospin, Blair tried to
respond, in French: ‘I admire Lionel Jospin, although we have differing views.’ Pity then
that his lingo actually translated as: ‘I desire Lionel Jospin in many different positions.’"

(Retold here by the Plain Language Commission in their newsletter - it's on page 7:


inmb  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
English to Polish
+ ...
Dan Quale on Latin Jun 4, 2010

“I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn’t study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people.” – Dan Quale
(also many others are here)


Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
English to Dutch
+ ...
A mighty story Jun 4, 2010

Many years ago, when the UK was still very reluctant to join the EU, Dutch minister of foreign affairs made a speech in which he criticized this position.
In his opinion, the British wrongly still thought himself a great nation and he concluded (in French):
La Grande Bretagne, c'est un mythe.

Unfortunately, that's not quite what he said. He got the gender wrong and therefore concluded:
La Grande Bretagne, c'est une mite.

[Bijgewerkt op 2010-06-04 07:17 GMT]


Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
Member (2007)
German to English
I am a jelly doughnut Jun 4, 2010

U.S. President John F. Kennedy's June 26, 1963 speech in West Berlin featured Mr. Kennedy's brave attempt at German: "Ich bin ein Berliner." Unfortunately Mr. Kennedy came perilously close to calling himself a jelly doughnut instead of expressing his solidarity with the city.

Berliner, you see, is the name of a jelly doughnut except in Berlin where, I'm told, they are called Pfannkuchen (although they bear no more resemblance to an American pancake than a jelly doughnut does). Nevertheless, it is fun to believe that a president of the United States referred to himself in public as an item of pastry.

[Edited at 2010-06-04 07:39 GMT]


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:09
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Gorbachev's throne Jun 4, 2010

This is pure speculation of course, but something along these lines may well have been said.


Soviet TV on 28th June 1988 had a report on a conference chaired by Gorbachev, which included the following video notes:

0824 Gorbachev's seat in the front row, currently empty, has a higher back than all the others, and wooden arms (the other seats have no arms).
This difference has not been noted on previous occasions.

0834 Gorbachev resumes his speech. As he does so, Ligachev is seen leaning across the large chair with arms and gesturing at it as he says something to Gromyko.

LIGACHEV TO GROMYKO (singing, to tune "Krasnaya Armiya vsekh silney"):

Has Gorbachev got a cult of his own?
What does he want with this damn great throne?
You're head of state, mate, and he knows it too!
He shouldn't sit there, it should be you!
Is this the proper way
To treat the Party?
To set himself up as the Tsar?
You see how glasnost
Becomes opasnost!
This time he's really gone too far!

Then the Tsarina, the wife of the Tsar,
Will be Raisa Maksimovna!
Your wife and mine, mate, will both blow their top!
We'd better do something, chop, chop, chop!
We don't think much of him,
So let's restructure him,
And show him how things should be run!
We'll cool his anger
In the Lubyanka,
And then let Stalin's will be done!

(The conference lasted two days. The high-backed seat with arms was never seen at it again. Gorbachev had the same kind of seat as everyone else at subsequent sessions.)

J. Doughty. June 1988


Louise Souter (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thanks everyone. Jun 4, 2010

Very amusing. I need to find a good gaffe for the conclusion of an essay on cultural translation.


Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dan Quayle often misquoted Jun 4, 2010

Quayle, in fact, never made that comment about Latin America, along with many other gaffes attributed to him.


Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A recent Hillary Clinton gaffe Jun 4, 2010

Just last year Hillary Clinton, in front of all the press, presented the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, with a reset button on a piece of wood signifying a new start to the two country's relations. The word "перезагрузка" was written on the wood. Clinton mentioned, "we worked hard to get the right Russian word" for reset.

"You got it wrong," responded Lavrov, "this...means 'overcharged'".

[Edited at 2010-06-04 14:24 GMT]


Tony M
Local time: 18:09
French to English
+ ...
A businessman, not a politician Jun 5, 2010

When the merger took place of GEC and Plessey some years back in the UK, the new group became known as GEC Plessey Telecommunications, or GPT for short.

When presenting the new structure to French executives, although addressing them in EN, the chairman went to great pains to correctly pronounce the acronym as it should be in French, i.e. jay-pay-tay (instead of djee-pee-tee as in EN). So he was mystified when, as the session advanced, every time he said the group's name, it was greeted with smiles, titters, and finally outright laughter.

His own command of FR was not sufficient to realize that his audience thought he was saying each time "J'ai pété" (I've just broken wind")!


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:09
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Nothing to do with politicians,, but... Jun 5, 2010

Tony's story reminds me of one about a cinema performance in Poland during the war, at which many of the audience were Germans. Someone was taken ill, and an appeal for a doctor ("Is there a doctor in the house?") was made in Polish and German. But the speaker did not know the German for doctor, so left the word doctor (lekarz) in Polish.
This came over in German as "Is there a Leckarsch (an arse-licker) in the house?", to the amusement of the Germans present.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:09
Flemish to English
+ ...
A politican's native language gaffes. Jun 6, 2010

W. : a well-known former politician for whom his native English language is a foreign language:

Some quotes:
-I know men and fish can coexist peacefully.

"Too many docs are going out of business, Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

"There's an old saying in Tennessee.. I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee.. that says: fool me once, shame on.. .. shame on you?.. .. Fool me.. you can't get fooled again. ... followed by "Keep on rockin' in the Free World"

and many others.

[Edited at 2010-06-06 08:23 GMT]


Cristina Heraud-van Tol  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:09
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Bushisms Jun 14, 2010

I think the worst of all was George W. Bush! Have fun with some of the following:

"This is my maiden voyage. My first speech since I was the president of the United States and I couldn't think of a better place to give it than Calgary, Canada." --George W. Bush, as reported by the Associated Press, Calgary, Canada, March 17, 2009

"So I analyzed that and decided I didn't want to be the president during a depression greater than the Great Depression, or the beginning of a depression greater than the Great Depression." --George W. Bush, Washington D.C., Dec. 18, 2008

"I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2009

"I've been in the Bible every day since I've been the president." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Nov. 12, 2008

"This thaw -- took a while to thaw, it's going to take a while to unthaw." --George W. Bush, on liquidity in the markets, Alexandria, La., Oct. 20, 2008

"First of all, I don't see America having problems." --George W. Bush, interview with Bob Costas at the 2008 Olympics, Beijing, China, Aug. 10, 2008

"Amigo! Amigo!" --George W. Bush, calling out to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Spanish at the G-8 Summit, Rusutsu, Japan, July 10, 2008

"Thank you, your Holiness. Awesome speech." --George W. Bush, to Pope Benedict, Washington, D.C., April 15, 2008 (Watch video clip)

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

Find more than 50 on:


Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:09
English to German
+ ...
@ Williamson and Cristina Jun 14, 2010

How does this relate to translation? Just curious.icon_smile.gif


John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:09
Spanish to English
+ ...
The Queen and Madame De Gaulle Jun 14, 2010

Reputedly, at a formal reception during a state visit to France in the late 1960s, Queen Elizabeth asked Madame De Gaulle what she was most looking forward to after the recently announced retirement of her husband Charles De Gaulle.

The Queen and her retinue were startled to hear Madame De Gaulle explain that she was looking forward to 'a penis'.

As everyone leaned forward with surprised expressions she explained:

'Oui, now that Charles is retired I am looking forward to 'appiness together'.


This may not be entirely true.

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