Going to Jail at the Rest Stop!

Published: by

I love blunders and errors in translation. They make for such great fodder, and are one of the fringe benefits of being multilingual (in addition to being able to do business in multiple countries and cultures). Personally, I think the watering down of second and third language requirements in many schools is a great loss to society and business. One of the classic examples of marketing translation errors is the Dairy Association's hugely successful "Got Milk?" campaign, which somehow was translated into Spanish, for the Latin American market, as "are you lactating?"

The other day, I was driving on a major road in northern Israel. I passed a fairly moderate sized jail, with a sign pointing to it, that said, in Hebrew, "בית מעצר קישון" or "Beit Maatzar Kishon." Now, Kishon is the name of a river that runs there. The term "maatzar" comes from the root of "to stop" or "to detain." Finally, "Beit" or "Bayit" is the term for a building or location. It also means "house" or "home." Thus, the "Beit Maatzar Kishon" translates correctly into the "Kishon Detention Center." And, indeed, a quick Google search links to the Israel Prisons Service page, showing that it is a detention center housing three types of people who are normally housed in detention centers, as opposed to penitentiaries or jails:

  • Those under short-term arrest, the equivalent of a night in the county jail
  • Those being held without bail until trial
  • Those who are normally being held under one of those two categories in other detention centers, but are undergoing trial in a nearby court, and thus are temporarily transferred

Most street signs in Israel are rendered in Hebrew and Arabic (the official languages of the country), as well as English, of benefit to the many tourists and business visitors.

Unfortunately, the Kishon Detention Center's sign writers clearly were convinced they knew English well enough to forgo asking an expert; I wonder if they were cousins to those who translated "Got Milk?" into Spanish. Their translation?

"Kishon House of Stop"

Excellent! A Stop House! Perfect place to use the bathrooms and fill up the car, perhaps stretch before continuing on the road...