5 book titles that were lost in translation

Translating is not an easy task. Besides knowing the source and target languages perfectly, translators need to understand complex meanings and nuances that can often be interpreted in more than one way.

Problems arise when the translator encounters untranslatable terms, complex grammatical structures (even tenses that exist in one language but not in the other), not to mention slang, conversational phrases and pop culture references! So, this raise the question, is it better to read the original text rather than a translated version? Are there differences in meaning? Almost definitely! As such, the translated version of a novel might not always capture the original’s true spirit. If you don’t believe us, here are 5 book titles that were badly translated, so you can see for yourself!


  1. “A Man Without Scruples” (Swedish)… The Great Gatsby

Nobody actually knows why the translator decided to make such a radical change to this famous novel’s title. While the main character is certainly unscrupulous in nature and less than forthcoming, the difference between the original title and the translated Swedish version is quite extreme.


Photo via Pixabay



  1. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”… Män som hatar kvinnor (The men who hate women).

The original Swedish title gives a clear picture of what the book is about (sexism and men who have a problem with women), but the translation to English kind of misses the point, as it instead directs the attention to the female main character and her physical appearance.



  1. “Bridge to the Afterlife” (Hungarian) … Bridge to Terabithia

The Hungarian version of Bridge to Terabithia doesn’t just give too much away; it’s an outright spoiler that ruins a major plot twist of the novel! The death of one of the main characters is not revealed until the end, so mentioning the “afterlife” in the book title certainly disrupts the surprise.



  1. “When You Die, Your Entire Life Passes Before Your Eyes, They Say” (German)… ‘Before I Fall’

The German translation of Before I Fall goes a bit too far, doesn’t it? The translator transformed three words into “Wenn du stirbst, zieht dein ganzes Leben an dir vorbei, sagen sie”. Although it captures the spirit of the title, there was surely a shorter way to translate it!



  1. “Don’t Shoot at the Mockingbird” (French)… To Kill a Mockingbird

The French translation of this famous book (Ne tirez pas sur l’oiseau moqueur), though very similar to the original English title, suggests the plot has something to do with shooting an innocent bird. Nothing to do with the spirit of the novel, actually, which is about racism and discrimination, although many English speakers missed the point of the original title, anyway.



Photo via Wikimedia

All in all, we believe it’s always better to read the original version of a book because:

  • When translating, the true message of the original version might be misinterpreted (or mistranslated).
  • Pop culture references, slang and puns are almost impossible to translate accurately.

So, if you’re feeling inspired to read great books in their original language, why not get started with an online or face-to-face course? In a short time, you’ll be able to grab a novel in the foreign language of your choosing and forget about these strangely translated titles!