Cancer Comic Strip

My name is Suzan St Maur and I've had cancer twice. I find that humor helps me get through my cancer, and from what I understand it helps many others too. This blog is dedicated not to information about the disease, but to cancer warriors and their relatives/friends who just want some cheering chuckles. By all means share your funny stories and jokes with us - email them to suze @ (If you want to know more about me see my profile on here or

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cancer humour (with a 2nd "U") - non US folks don't see the joke

I've recently had my knuckles rapped by a range of British, Canadian, Antipodean and other non-US English speakers for my persistent use of the American spelling of "humor." Sorry guys, despite being a Canadian and living in the UK most of my commercial writing work these days is for the USA and I've kind of fallen into the habit.

Question is, how do I go about putting the wrong to right?

Do I spell the word "humour/humor?" (Alternating equally with "humor/humour" to make it perfectly fair?)

Do I go for an amalgamation like "humo(u)r?"

Do I replace the word altogether with something that everyone spells the same way, like "funniness," "hilarity," "wit," "amusement," etc.?

Do I invent an entirely new word that will probably offend everyone, e.g. "humer," or perhaps even "jokishness?"

Or for the sake of saving time, nerve-endings, bandwidth, server space, sanity, etc., do I just decide to use one spelling and risk irritating the mere few million English speakers who spell it the other way?

Your views would be most welcome - please comment. And don't forget to make them humerous if you can.

In the meantime here are few further examples of language disasters to help you get your thinking caps on.

(And we haven't even mentioned cancer once. Good. There's so much more to all of our lives.)

Here are 11 good reasons why advertising companies should hire linguists:

1. The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"

2. Coors put its slogan "Turn it loose" into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea."

3. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like Electrolux."
(N.B. I can't vouch for the rest of these examples, but I know this one is true - confirmed to me by a former Electrolux employee who saw the ad in the 1940s, if I remember rightly. Sz.)

4. Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick," a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had a use for the manure stick.

5. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since many people cannot read.

6. Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

7. An American T-Shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the potato" (la papa).

8. Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave," in Chinese.

9. The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Ke-kou-ke-la," meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax," depending upon the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "ko-kou-ko-le," translating into "Happiness in the mouth."

10. Frank Perdue's chicken slogan "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."

11. When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Instead, the company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."


  • At 1:48 PM , Blogger Euterpe said...

    I'm non-US and I spell the American way most of the time because they use fewer letters. Less room for typos that way I figure! I had a huge laugh over the advertizing bits. I presume you've seen the hilarious Engrish site? Great stuff, lots of visual bits to get you laughing. Cheers, have a great day!

  • At 2:04 PM , Blogger Suzan St Maur said...

    Yes, I have seen the "Engrish" site and think it's brilliant! I agree with your point that shorter is better. Could it be that you and I are graciously promoting linguistic conservation? Are shorter words good for the rainforests? Mind you, as far as rainforests are concerned the more hot, damp air the better. Ah well, let's not go there, huh...


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