The mangled words of Merkel, Trump and Putin 

September 1, 2017

What do Merkel, Trump and Putin have in common? Despite monopolising our current global mindshare, there’s something else they have in common: They often get lost in translation. But in their case, what starts off with one simple mistake can quickly escalate into a political scandal.

Did Merkel troll Trump?

Earlier this year, the world’s media was abuzz with the shocking news that the United States would be leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. As the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw caused shockwaves that made even the most steadfast American allies speak up.

At the G20 summit in Hamburg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to the world that the other 19 countries present had guaranteed their commitment to the deal, and then spoke to reporters. Her response, according to CNN’s translation?

“I deplore this”.

The full translated statement was actually this:

“You are familiar with the American position, you know that unfortunately — and I deplore this — the United States of America left the climate agreement or rather said, announced their intention of doing this.”

The Internet, being the Internet, took it from there and people quickly draw the conclusion that Merkel had brilliantly trolled Trump. Why? Because they interpreted Merkel’s usage of the word “deplorable” as a sly nod to a comment made by Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign when referring to Trump’s supporters.

It was all over the media too: The Washington Post, the Guardian, the Huff Post, the BBC… Everyone was talking about it.

However, it turns out that this wasn’t the case, at all. Merkel was not referring to the “basket of deplorables” incident as some people thought, nor was she making fun of Trump.

Here’s what she said in her native German:

“Sie wissen, die USA sind bedauerlicherweise aus dem Klimaabkommen ausgetreten – beziehungsweise haben gesagt, dass sie das wollen.”

The word “bedauerlicherweise” is the one that got translated as “deplore”. But, in fact, it means “regretfully” or “unfortunately” or “sad to say”.


I’ll have a cup of covfefe to go

On the 30th of May 2017 the world was shocked with one tweet from Donald Trump. And it wasn’t about North Korea, the Klu Klux Klan, or civil rights. But it dominated several news cycles and spawned a million memes.

Covfefe. But what does it mean? A late night typo? However, a bunch of very confident people shared on social media a new theory. They were saying that Trump was actually sending a message to the world in Arabic.

According to some, “covfefe” is Arabic for “I will stand up.” Well, according to this article by the New York Times who interviewed Ali Adeeb Alnaemi, a professor of Arabic at New York University, that is “not even close to true”.

In the end, Sean Spicer, who was at the time Trump’s Press Secretary, stated that “the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant”.

I guess we’ll have to wait for Sean’s book to be published to find out.

Did Putin call Trump a “Genius”?

On an interview with CNN in April 2016, and on many other occasions, Donald Trump stated that Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, called him a “genius”.

Trump was actually referring to a comment made by Putin in 2015 when the Russian politician was being interviewed by an ABC reporter.

ABC wrote this as the caption for what Putin was saying:

“He’s a very colourful person. Talented, without any doubt, but it’s not our affair to determine his worthiness — that’s up to the United States voters. But he is absolutely the leader in the presidential race.”

Once more, a bad translation was at fault, as media outlets including CNN, Buzzfeed and the New York Post quoted Putin calling Trump “brilliant and talented.”

On the other hand, RT, the Russian State-funded television network, quoted Putin as saying “very flamboyant.”

The word Putin used was “яркий” or “yarkii,” which means “bright” or “brilliant.”

In English, the words “bright” and “brilliant” are synonyms for both “vivid” and “intelligent,” but the Russian word “yarkii” does not carry the second meaning.

Putin was really saying that Trump was “colourful” or that he had a “strong personality”.


Check out The 3 translation errors that led to war in Iraq, Hiroshima and Vietnam too.

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