A good translation or translator really does matter. Professional translator Nataly Kelly tells the following story about what journalists have called the “$70 million word.”

In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but Willie’s family only spoke Spanish. They told the hospital staff that Willie was intoxicado. The word is what translators call a “false friend”—it doesn’t mean what you’d assume it means. In Spanish, intoxicado refers to a state of poisoning, usually from ingesting something toxic to the system. Ramirez’s family was trying to say Willie was suffering from food poisoning—literally “He is poisoned.”

However, when the doctors grabbed a hospital staff person to translate for the Ramirez family, the staff worker said Willie was intoxicated. The doctors treated him as if we were suffering from an intentional drug overdose. Willie was misdiagnosed, and because of the wrong course of treatment, became a quadriplegic. The hospital finally settled in court with the Ramirez family for $71 million. (From Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsch, Found in Translation (Perigee Trade, 2012), pp. 3-5, via Preaching Today)


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