Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was kind enough to give us the latest example of how poor quality translations can leave an organization looking foolish. In this case, the organization in question was the United States government.
As reported on CNN’s website, Hillary presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a “reset button” to symbolize a new age in U.S.-Russian relations.Then this happened:
“I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: ‘We want to reset our relationship, and so we will do it together.’ …
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” she asked Lavrov, laughing.
“You got it wrong,” said Lavrov, as both diplomats laughed.
“It should be “perezagruzka” [the Russian word for reset],” said Lavrov.”This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.’”
Sure, it’s a harmless mistake and does not carry significant ramifications. Yet, the nagging suspicion remains that such simple errors could lead to more embarrassing and potentially hurtful gaffes in the future. Which leads me to the core of all of my arguments: make sure your translations are done by professionals and, ideally, checked by another.