There you are, sitting comfortably in your Pajero at the pickup point at the airport. All is peaceful until you glance in your rearview mirror and see a bunch of people obviously sharing a joke. They are laughing happily and pointing at your car — or is it you?
You check yourself out — everything is in order. It must be the car. A flat tyre, something scribbled in the dust on the rearview mirror?
Only one thing to do. You get out, walk around the car-nothing wrong. A person breaks away from the group and trots over to you: “Excuse me, Sir, but are all cars in South Africa with this name…Pajero?”
You reply in the affirmative, now more bewildered than ever. “You see, we are from Spain. Pajero in Spanish means… ” and he then walks off, still giggling.
You are left behind slightly amused, but a bit perplexed that Mitsubishi could be ignorant enough to use a name that in Spanish rhymes with “banker” for their car.
(As car fans can be conservative and this is a public site, these cryptic references abound from here on in, in this article.)
A Pajero by any other name would smell as sweet
Knowing that South Africa will be making this particular bunch of Spanish tourists happy and have them laughing their way across the country, you go home and start Googling.
The results are quite startling, and most relate to body parts or dodgy activities. Spanish seems to be the favourite, but just about all the major brands make mistakes.
It also makes sense as you read the sorry list why the beard-stroking marketers at places like BMW and Mercedes play it safe. There is little danger in embarrassing your brand if the models of your cars are labelled the 3-series or the B-series.
So here are some examples trawled off various sites — with models that may not be that familiar to South African ears.
No regard has been paid to the age of the mistake, as the criteria here are levels of embarrassment.
Embarrassing car names
The Mazda Laputa, a rebadged Suzuki in Spanish (yup, Spanish again) quickly became known as the “La Puta”. If you watch the Netflix-dubbed series from Spanish, you will be familiar with the phrase, which translates into “The Whore”.
On the gentler side, models from Chev and Lada used the name Nova, which translated from the Spanish means “does not work” (“no va”).
Even Lamborghini has fallen foul of the Spaniards.
The Reventón launched at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, and the precursor to the Aventador was named after a famous bull (as is tradition).
In Spanish, however, “reventón” means “blowout” or “flat tyre”.
A personal favourite is the Ford Probe. If I recall correctly, the car was launched when space exploration was the in-thing. Probe, probably sounded like something from NASA.
Own goal, folks. To probe in all its connotations doesn’t mean anything pleasant. To me its what dictionary.com says so well: “A slender surgical instrument for exploring the depth or direction of a wound, sinus, or the like”. (The imagination runs riot.)
Pronunciation is key
Nothing could sound more mundane than a Toyota MR2. For those who like boring people at pubs, it really means mid-engine, rear-wheel drive two-seater.
But, French pronunciation “M-R-Deux” sounds very similar to the French word “merde”, which rhymes with pit (wow, another rhyming lesson as well). Toyota reacted by selling the car as the MR in France. (What did I say about being safe? Back to the drawing board.)
Still, in France, consider the Audi TT Coupé. Pronounced “tete coupé” which is French for a decapitated head.
The more recently released Hyundai Kona in Portuguese means, well, it is vulgar, so for those who have to know, go do some research. (Advice: Don’t ask a Portuguese woman.)
Overall, my sympathies are with the guys who have to name the cars. Even if they are incredibly cautious, they are bound to miss out a language or two. Take the Fiat Uno for instance, which in Italian means “one”.
Hah, you see, you forgot Finnish. In Finnish, Uno translates into “fool”. (No further comment).
If you drive a Pajero locally and know a lot of Spanish people, think carefully before offering one of them a ride. Instead say: “Look for me. I will be in the 4×4.”
Either that or buy some masking tape.
What do I drive? It used to be a Ford Kuga until I found out that “Kuga” means “plague” (as in The Black Death) in Slovenian and has other (body part) connotations in some places in Norway.
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