Translation gaffe at Gatwick

I was shocked to see this beginners’ translation blunder at Gatwick airport. This picture shows a box inviting passengers to donate their spare currency.

The largest word on the box says Change. Presumably, this is the original English word. No doubt, the intended message is that passengers should give over their remaining small change. The box also gives 18 words in other languages.

German, though not as we know it

What stopped me in my tracks as I walked past was seeing the German word Veränderung. This word means the process of making a change or alteration—or the outcome of making a change or alteration.

Nobody who knows much German could ever think this word means anything like ‘small change’ or ‘left over money’. And it doesn’t even mean exchanging one currency for another. At least a word meaning ‘exchange’ might have come a little closer to the intended meaning (though it would still have been wrong).

The German word for small change is Kleingeld (‘small money’). Perhaps Restgeld (‘remaining money’) would also do.

There is even a typo in the word Veränderung: the box does not spell the word with the initial upper-case letter that German spelling conventions require for all nouns.  

The wrong ‘change’ again

To make matters worse, German wasn’t the only language this box’s makers mangled. The box also says verandering. In fact, this word appears twice, but I have found this word in only one language: Dutch. That word seems to have much the same meaning as Veränderung.

Other languages

Not content with making a mess of the German and Dutch translations, the makers of the box made a mess in at least 7 other languages. Quite a feat, given that each translation was only one word long. In fact, the makers selected for each of the following other languages a word that means a change or alteration, not small change or residual money:

  • changement (French). The normal French word for small change is monnaie.
  • cambiamento (Italian). The normal Italian word for small change is spiccioli. Resto can mean ‘residual money’.
  • mudança (Portuguese). Undoubtedly related to the English mutation. It seems the normal Portuguese word for small change is trocado.
    (Apparently the word mudança also exists in Catalan).
  • schimbare (Romanian). Apparently, the normal word for small change is mărunţiş.
  • zmiana (Polish).
  • promjena (Croatian).
  • αλλαγι (Greek).

Spanish is the only language I checked in which the word selected (cambio) could sometimes mean ‘small change’, though it seems Spanish also uses—at least in some regions—several other words for this as well, such as suelto, calderilla, sencilla, amenudo, monedas sueltas.

I haven’t checked the words used in the other languages appearing on the box. They appear to be Mandarin, Hindi, Hebrew, Turkish and 2 languages written in an Arabic script.

Closing comment

I can’t understand what the airport was playing at. If you go to the trouble of translating something, why wouldn’t you give the job to someone who knows what they’re doing?

2 comments

  1. I remember a case in Canada in which, in the required bilingual labelling of “Polish Sausage”, the French translation was given as “Polissez la Saucisse” (“polish the sausage”). Another example was a pullover “Made in Turkey”/”Fabriqué en Dinde” (which means “turkey”, the bird).

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