Language translation can be a funny thing. With all its complexities and subtleties, it’s no wonder that translation errors can sometimes result in humorous or confusing situations. Today, we’re going to dive into the delightful world of translation mix-ups and explore one particular case that involves the difference between a “cute” headache and an “acute” headache when translating from Hebrew to English.

The Problem with Words That Look Similar

Every language has its quirks and peculiarities, and Hebrew is no exception. Like many languages, it contains words that look similar but have very different meanings. This is where our adventure begins.

 In Hebrew, “cute” (חמוד) and “acute” (חמור) look to be almost identical, but while similar in writing, these are two very different terms. One may sound like something endearing in a cartoon the other could be a serious condition that requires medical attention.

 Similarly, the terms are also quite close in English. Only a single space separates “a cute headache” from “acute headache”, while the difference in meaning is quite dramatic!


Acute Headaches vs. “Cute” Headaches

Let’s talk about “acute” headaches. An “acute” headache is no laughing matter—it’s intense and severe. If you were seeking medical attention for a splitting headache and told your doctor, “I have an acute headache,” they would usually investigate further, and it would likely result in additional tests to diagnose what is causing it.

“A cute” headache, on the other hand, can be something portrayed in cartoons with birds flying around your head. It’s like something out of a whimsical children’s book. Unfortunately, most headaches are anything but cute.

How it All Played Out

A hospital in Israel, which works quite closely with Transcom, has reached out to our team to seek help on an informed consent form they have translated internally. They wanted to understand how several patients have ended up signing a form in Hebrew which had described that one of the side effects of the drug they are using would be “a cute headache”.

 Our team has investigated the matter and found that that the mistake stemmed from a single redundant space in the English informed consent form. The space between “a” and “cute” changed the meaning of the source entirely. The company which has translated the document has translated the contents and stayed true to the source, and when reviewing the translation have missed this odd mistake because of the similarity between the Hebrew writing of the two words, “חמור” and “חמוד”. From the same reason, most patients have not even noticed the issue when signing the forms, until eventually a more diligent patient sarcastically asked the investigator what exactly is “a cute headache”, thus revealing the mistake.

Transcom has helped the hospital update the informed consent form, and they’ve re-signed the patients on the forms, and all ended well with both investigators and patients having a good laugh. With such an important document, however, the consequences of this small mistake may have been far more substantial had one of the patients suffered from acute headaches.

 Such errors are easy to miss in a long form, especially if automated translation tools (CAT Tools, MT or NLP) are used as part of the process. At the end of the day, you need to have a trusted professional read through the form to make sure no such mistakes impact the meaning of the form.

The world of language translation errors has shown us that even the most seemingly simple words can lead to amusing or potentially costly misunderstandings. So next time you need to translate an informed consent form, remember the importance of accuracy, and work with a professional partner that can help avoid any “cute” mistakes!