The perfume of bad translation

A couple of days ago, I was flying between Biarritz and Paris on an Easy Jet flight and picked up their onboard duty-free catalogue and thumbed to the perfume section. Years back during the dawn of social media, I used to use MySpace with my brothers for one main reason: to make fun of perfume ads. My brothers would post a random photo and then some fake ad copy. “Rugby Man: the timeless fragrance of flexing buttocks in tight shorts.” Or maybe “Captivate: the smell of a grizzly bear wrestling with an existential crisis.” Or more accurately, those were the kinds of descriptions I started posting underneath random photos. Theirs were funnier.

I was reminded of this when I started reading those catalogue descriptions. I couldn’t figure out at first if it was terrible original copy, or terrible translation. Finally I decided it had to be bad translation. There was no way a professional ad writer would have come up with this in native English. And mysteriously, not all the ad copy was terrible: some was completely normal. In fact, most of it was. With a few exceptions.

The bottom line: somebody should seize the opportunity to pitch localization services to Easy Jet.

 Golden fleece

“The comeback of a flamboyant and asserted masculine seduction” made me laugh out loud. Maybe the subtext is that the 1980s are back in town. I didn’t know “flamboyant and asserted” masculine seduction had ever been a thing, let alone that it had left to return in the form of a spicy leather gold ingot.

'The comeback of a flamboyant and asserted masculine seduction.' The Perfume of Bad Translation Click To Tweet

Diesel-fume bad

This one just made no sense; it’s a jumble of all the most popular perfume words tossed in a particularly bad (boy) word salad. Also, what is a “do” (noun) aside from a hairstyle?

The intensity of exceptional hippie sweat

I’m not sure if it has the same connotations everywhere, but where I live, patchouli is often regarded as the scent of unwashed hippies. Maybe that’s why Paris is upside down? Hippie sweat is chic now?


About Katie Botkin

Katie Botkin, managing editor at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, (the linguistic variety at this early stage consisting mostly of helpful insults in Latin) and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing.

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