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$71 Million word or How Words Can Change Meaning When Translated

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March 9, 2017

words have power wood tiles

When words are miscommunicated or incorrectly translated, there can be dire consequences.

Words are certainly the most important tools for communication. They are a range of symbols that make communication interesting, meaningful, and, if used properly, easy.

Words are powerful, and it when it comes to translating words, without the help of an expert translation agency, you risk your documents literally getting lost in translation, even worse, your health could suffer, as you will see in our example below.

Words can change the way we communicate and what we mean

Words have massive accountability and the responsibility we have to use words the way they are intended, especially during translation, is often neglected. However, there are instances where words are given a different meaning altogether, for instance, the meaning a word has in the medical field could be completely different in the legal sphere.

Let’s take the example of the $71 million word. In 1980, Willie Ramirez, who was 18 at the time, was admitted to a hospital in Florida. He was comatose. His friends and family were unable to describe his condition to paramedics and doctors because they could only speak Spanish. It was up to a bilingual hospital staff member to translate the word “intoxicado” to “intoxicated.”

Sounds simple enough, but, a professional interpreter knows that “intoxicado” is really closer to the English word, “poisoned” and doesn’t have the same meaning as alcohol or drug intoxication. Ramirez’s family thought he was suffering from a bout of food poisoning, when he was really suffering an intracerebral hemorrhage. Sadly, because of the misunderstanding, doctors treated for a drug overdose and Ramirez was left, quadriplegic. He was awarded $71 million in his malpractice settlement.

A closer look at words

Translating words is a big duty for a professional translator. While they don’t want to lose the meaning of the words you use in your documents, such as safe manuals or medical documents, those words do need to appeal to your target audience. That is, those words need to be culturally accurate, localized in the audience’s dialect, and usually not disrespectful.

What about non-English words?

While the English language is certainly extensive, there are other languages that have words that simply cannot be translated. Here are a few examples:

Schadenfreude

This German word is used to describe enjoyment that comes from listening to or seeing the troubles of others.

Fernweh

Another German word that describes the feeling of homesickness for a place you have never visited.

Sobremesa

A Spanish word that describes that moment after eating a meal, when the food has been cleared and the conversation is still going strong around the table.

Conclusion

Words certainly paint a thousand pictures, so you want to get them right during the professional translation process. Choosing words correctly and associating them with the right tone and dialect is an essential part of communicating with different cultures. It is also of the utmost importance, whether you are translating safety procedure manuals, medical files, or even legal documents.

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