Google Translate error makes Spanish festival a different one



It was meant to be a culinary festival celebrating grelo, the leafy green vegetable that is a staple in the Galician town of As Pontes in north-west Spain.

But for the past few months, the small town was marketing a very different kind of festival after it used Google Translate to put the Galician word grelo into Castilian Spanish, ending up with it inviting people to take part in a “clitoris festival”.

“It was quite a surprise,” Montserrat García, the town’s spokeswoman, told the Guardian. “At first, we didn’t believe what we were seeing.”

Local officials in As Pontes – population 11,000 – had written the announcement for the annual festival in Galician, one of the official languages of the northern Spanish region. They used Google Translate for the Spanish-language version of the text.

It meant the town’s “Feria do grelo” or rapini festival – held every February with tastings and awards for the best grelos – became “Feria clítoris” in Spanish.

The translated announcement read: “The clitoris is one of the typical products of Galician cuisine. Since 1981 … the festival has made the clitoris one of the star products of its local gastronomy.”

García said the translation error was likely on the town’s official website for months before it was noticed late last week.

She believed the online translation tool mistook the Galician word for the Portuguese version, which refers to the vegetable but also can be used as slang for clitoris.

Officials in As Pontes are considering filing a formal complaint with Google. García said: “They should recognise Galician and translate it accurately.”

Google Translate has since changed the translation, with grelo now said to mean “brote” or sprout. But García remains dissatisfied: “It’s still not the best way of describing grelo, as it is a vegetable from the turnip family.”

Town officials have turned their backs on Google Translate, but there has been an upside to the embarrassing error, García said, as it caused a surge of interest in this year’s festival. “It’s become a means – albeit a very odd means – of promoting our festival.”

A Google spokesperson said: “Google Translate is an automatic translator – that is, it works without the intervention of human translators, using state-of-the-art technology instead. When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation for you.

“Since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect and sometimes there will be mistakes or mistranslations. If people come across incorrect or inappropriate translations, they can let us know about them and we’ll be happy to fix them as soon as possible.”