As any interpreter knows, interpreting a message in full is only half the battle. The other half is making sure that the interpretation is accurate as well. Interpreters have a duty to preserve a message's accuracy and to correct any errors that may occur. Unfortunately, misinterpretations do happen and, as the examples below illustrate, mistakes can be embarrassing, costly, and even deadly.
1.) In 1956, with tensions rising between the United States and the Soviet Union, a speech by Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev did little to ease relations between the two superpowers. In the speech, Kruschev was misinterpreted as saying "We will bury you." In fact, what Kruschev really said was "We will be present at your burial." This mistake was not just a political gaffe, but also something that could have lead to nuclear war.
2.) Eighteen year old Willie Ramirez was in a coma when he was admitted to a Florida hospital in 1980. A misinterpretation of the Spanish word "intoxicado" caused Willie to be misdiagnosed as being overdosed on drugs. As a result, Willie's real diagnosis, an intracerebral hemorrhage, was overlooked and his treatment was delayed, thus leaving him quadriplegic. This grave error resulted in the hospital providing Willie with a settlement of $71 million.
3.) At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, allied leaders drafted the Potsdam Declaration which demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan. Japanese reporters, who were eager for a response from their government, questioned Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki about the government's reaction to the declaration. Suzuki, as a way of indicating that he had no comment, responded by using the Japanese word "mokusatsu" which is derived from the Japanese word for "silence". However, "mokusatsu" can also be interpreted as ignoring something in contempt. This second interpretation was relayed back to the American government and Hiroshima was bombed ten days after Suzuki's comment.
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