Lost in Translation
by Joey Green

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Bimbo Bread
In America, the name Wonder Bread always made me wonder if the product is really bread. But the name of the Mexican equivalent— Bimbo Bread—makes me wonder what kind of person buys it.

In 1945 in Mexico City, baker Lorenzo Servitje and four partners founded Panificaciòn Bimbo, a bakery named after their mascot, a cuddly white teddy bear wearing a baker’s hat. The bear signifies the bread’s tenderness, whiteness and softness. The name Bimbo—pronounced BEEM’-bo, a combination of the words bingo (the popular game) and Bambi (the 1942 Disney movie)—has no meaning in Spanish. The company founders must have had no idea that, in English, the word bimbo—derived from the Italian word bambino, meaning “little boy”—means “a foolish, stupid, or inept person.”

Bimbo Bakeries now operates in 19 countries, and parent company Grupo Bimbo has become the largest bread manufacturing company in the world. Seeing the company’s white delivery trucks, emblazoned with the word Bimbo in huge red letters, made me wonder, “Who’s driving that truck? What’s inside it? And do I really want to know?”

Pocari Sweat
In vending machines on many street corners in Tokyo, you can buy bottles and cans of a sports drink called Pocari Sweat, which was launched in 1980 by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Inc. Although the name of the “ion supply” beverage may not sound appetizing to anyone fluent in English, Pocari Sweat actually tastes sweet, with a touch of grapefruit flavor. The peculiar name stems from the idea that the product replaces nutrients and electrolytes lost through sweating. Although the company claims that Pocari is a made-up word chosen for its “light and nice tone,” the name may be a combination of the first syllables of two main ingredients: the nutrients potassium and calcium. Japanese companies frequently name products by combining English words using Japanese syntax as a creative device—oblivious to the literal meaning. If I still worked in advertising, I’d urge the company to promote its sports drink with the slogan “Pocari Sweat? No sweat.” That’s probably why I no longer work in advertising.

Corny Granola Bars
Introduced in 1984 by the German company Schwartauer Werke in Bad Schwartau, a peaceful spa town near the Baltic Sea that is famous for its iodide saline waters, iconic Corny cereal bars come in a variety of delicious flavors to satisfy all Corny fans.

Corny Classic, Corny Big, and Corny Free are all made from korn (meaning “grain” in German), not corn (known in Germany as mais). Corny cereal bars contain mostly oats, barley, and rye. The product name is a misspelling of the German word korn combined with the English suffix “y,” best translated in English as “grainy”—probably not the best name for a cereal bar, either.

Schwartauer Werke executives had no idea that in English the word corny means “trite” or “lacking in subtlety.” That’s because the word for corny in German is kitschig, the source of the English word kitsch. Yet despite its unusual English name, Corny sells more than 200 million cereal bars a year. And there’s absolutely nothing corny about that.

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Copyright © 2014 Joey Green. All rights reserved.
Reprinted from American Way magazine.


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