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Jimmy Carter knew how to get an audience to pay attention. In a speech given during the US President's 1977 visit to Poland, he appeared to express sexual desire for the then-Communist country. Or that's what his translator said, anyway. It turned out Carter had said he wanted to learn about the Polish people's "desires for the future".


Earning a place in history, his translator also turned "I left the United States this morning" into "I left the United States, never to return"; according to Time magazine, even the innocent statement that Carter was happy to be in Poland became the claim that "he was happy to grasp at Poland's private parts".


Unsurprisingly, the President used a different translator when he gave a toast at a state banquet later in the same trip – but his woes didn't end there. After delivering his first line, Carter paused, to be met with silence. After another line, he was again followed by silence. The new translator, who couldn't understand the President's English, had decided his best policy was to keep quiet. By the time Carter's trip ended, he had become the punchline for many a Polish joke.

果不其然,卡特在国宴上发表祝酒辞时换下了这名“翻译达人”,但美国总统的“杯具”还没有结束。在讲完第一句祝酒辞后,卡特停顿了一下,翻译一片沉默;卡特 又讲了一句,迎接他的还是沉默。原来新翻译听不懂总统先生的英语,于是愉快地决定,与其多说多错,不如保持沉默。到卡特结束他的波兰之行时,他已经成为了 许多波兰人的笑柄。


In 1956, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was translated as saying “We will bury you” to Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow. The phrase was plastered across magazine covers and newspaper headlines, further cooling relations between the Soviet Union and the West.


Yet when set in context, Khruschev's words were closer to meaning "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in". He was stating that Communism would outlast capitalism, which would destroy itself from within, referring to a passage in Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto that argued "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers." While not the most calming phrase he could have uttered, it was not the sabre-rattling threat that inflamed anti-Communists and raised the spectre of a nuclear attack in the minds of Americans.

然而根据上下文来看,赫鲁晓夫原话的意思应该是“不管你们喜不喜欢,历史都在我们这一边。我们会为你们掘土。”他实际上指的是马克思在《共产党宣言》里写的 一段话“资产阶级生产的首先是自身的掘墓人”,意思是资本主义将从内部自我毁灭,共产主义最终将战胜资本主义。虽然这句话也不那么让人安心,但毕竟还算不 上什么刀光剑影的恫吓,也不至于激怒反共势力,让如临大敌的美国人以为受到了核威胁。

Khruschev himself clarified his statement – although not for several years. "I once said 'We will bury you', and I got into trouble with it," he said during a 1963 speech in Yugoslavia. "Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.



Mistranslations during negotiations have often proven contentious. Confusion over the French word 'demander', meaning 'to ask', inflamed talks between Paris and Washington in 1830. After a secretary translated a message sent to the White House that began "le gouvernement français demande" as "the French government demands", the US President took issue with what he perceived as a set of demands. Once the error was corrected, negotiations continued.

谈判中的误译往往会引发争执。1830年,在法国与美国的谈判中,因为一名秘书把法语的“请求”一词(demander)错误地翻译为“要求”,使这场谈判 变得火药味十足。翻译将法国呈递给白宫的公函一开头的“法国政府请求”错误翻译为“法国政府要求”,导致美国总统杰克逊提出反对意见。直到这个错误得到纠 正,那场谈判才继续下去。

Some authorities have been accused of exploiting differences in language for their own ends. The Treaty of Waitangi, a written agreement between the British Crown and the Māori people in New Zealand, was signed by 500 tribal chiefs in 1840. Yet conflicting emphases in the English and Māori versions have led to disputes, with a poster claiming 'The Treaty is a fraud' featuring in the Māori protest movement.

有人指出,有些当权者利用不同语言间的差异实现不可告人的目的。1840年英国王室和新西兰毛利人达成的书面协议《怀唐伊条约》便是一例。在这份英国与 500名毛利部落首领签订的协议中,英文版和毛利文版各执一词互相矛盾。这导致毛利人在抗议运动中打出标语,宣称“这份条约是个骗局”。



More of a misunderstanding than a mistranslation, one often-repeated phrase might have been reinforced by racial stereotypes. During Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai famously said it was 'too early to tell' when evaluating the effects of the French Revolution. He was praised for his sage words, seen as reflecting Chinese philosophy; yet he was actually referring to the May 1968 events in France.


According to retired US diplomat Charles W Freeman Jr – Nixon's interpreter during the historic trip – the misconstrued comment was "one of those convenient misunderstandings that never gets corrected." Freeman said: "I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou's comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts.

当年尼克松对中国进行历史性访问时,担任他翻译的是美国外交官小查尔斯·弗里曼。他认为这场误解更多来源于西方对中国人的刻板印象,“(西方)不假思索地曲 解了原话的意思,再也不会改正。除了对中国领导人比西方领导人更加高瞻远瞩、看事物更加长远的刻板印象,我找不到更令人信服的理由。”

"It was what people wanted to hear and believe, so it took hold."