How one letter can make all the difference

How one letter can make all the difference

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One letter can make all the difference in the world. UvA Talen, one of the larger translation agencies in the Netherlands, explains. 

We’ve all been there. You’re writing an email, you press “send” and only then do you notice that you forgot to include the attachment. Too late, the email is already gone. Although a missing attachment might seem a bit unprofessional, it’s a mistake that’s easily fixed: you can quickly follow up with an apologetic message, this time including the document.

But what if your message contains a painful typo? One letter can make all the difference in the world. Ending your email in Dutch with “Hartelijke groeten” (Kind regards) is perfectly fine, but “Hatelijke groeten”, without the “r”, actually means “hateful greetings”. Whoops, that’s not what you meant to say at all! You can only hope that the recipient doesn’t notice or is in a forgiving mood.

Hip hip!

Here’s another embarrassing example of a missing letter. Imagine that it’s your co-worker’s birthday and you want to congratulate them with a message on the intranet. But instead of “Hiep hiep hoera”, you accidentally write “Hiep hiep hoer”. You left off the “a” at the end of the sentence, which changes the meaning quite significantly from “Hip hip hurray” to “Hip hip whore”. Not really something you’d want to hear on your special day, and for all your colleagues to see as well.

Be careful when typing a quick message, then, especially now that lots of us are working from home and using Skype and other chat programmes all day long. It’s a jungle out there!

Thanks, autocorrect!

Continuing on this topic, I have often noticed that when using WhatsApp, for example, Dutch autocorrect often changes the word “hier” (here) to “hoer” (whore). I wonder what that says about us as users… can the latter really be a more commonly used word than “hier”? That doesn’t seem very likely to me, but why else would the algorithm suggest this change? Autocorrect can be a useful tool, but it can get you into trouble if you’re not careful.

Tattoos gone wrong

You can’t be too careful when preparing your tattoo design, as this story about a Swedish mother shows: instead of getting a tattoo with “Kevin”, the name of her son, she got “Kelvin” written on her arm. In the end, she and her husband decided that it would be easier to change the name of their two-year-old boy to “Kelvin” than to get the tattoo fixed.

Getting a text tattooed in a language that you don’t speak, especially if that language uses characters that are different from those in your own language, is notoriously hazardous. Before you know it, you could be walking around with an obscenity on your arm. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to have your design checked by a language expert before you get inked!

Ugly deadlines

Sometimes, however, a typo actually produces a fantastic new word. One of our translation clients was in a great hurry and emailed us the following language gem: “ik zit hier met een afschuwlelijke deadline in mijn nek!” (I’m dealing with a horrible deadline here!). Instead of “afschuwelijk”, she typed “afschuwlelijk”, which is a contraction of the words “afschuwelijk” and “lelijk”, or “horrible” and “ugly” in English. This perfectly captured the urgent nature of the request and we didn’t find it painful at all; in fact, it made our day!

In our Amsterdam office, we have a whiteboard where we write funny sayings, and we’ve collected a whole bunch of them over the years. Let’s hope that we’re all back in the office soon, and are able to look at the whiteboard again when we’re in need of a pick-me-up, as they still put a smile on our faces.

UvA Talen is one of the larger translation agencies in the Netherlands. Their translation department is ISO certified, uses professional and sworn translators and editors, and offers free follow-up care. Want to find out what UvA Talen can do for your company? Visit their website.

Maite François


Maite François

Maite works as a proofreader and translator at UvA Talen. She loves gardening, singing, watching football and cycling around Amsterdam.

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