lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation

Not knowing a language usually creates difficulties in many aspects of life: doing business, traveling or trying to appreciate not visual forms of art. But sometimes the confusion of tongues produces amusing results.

A couple of months ago Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) in one of her travel reports shared a joke:

We didn’t encounter any ‘Geisterfahrer’ on tour though – so-called ‘ghost drivers’ who drive the wrong way down the motorway, causing a major risk to other traffic. Oh, and the bass player remarked that for a long time he had thought ‘Ausfahrt’ was a major city in Germany, as so many roads seemed to lead to it…

It reminded me of my own road-signs-related confusions. One of them also involved German language. The first time I was in Vienna, for a good five minutes I stood next to a street name sign on a building trying to put a mental “You’re here” on the map in my hands. Finally I willed together all the shreds of my year-and-half of the German technical translation course and had an epiphany: it wasn’t a street name!

Einbahnstrasse sign

When I moved to the U.S., the first time I saw a road sign “$1000 FINE FOR LITTERING”, it enthralled me: I didn’t realize it was a regular road sign. I thought it was a custom-made board by clever city officials who chose that sarcastic way of fighting against garbage on the road to their city. You see: I didn’t know the “penalty” meaning of the word “fine.” So in my head I read it as a short version of: “If you have extra $1000, go ahead, make all the mess you want – it’s gonna be just fine!”

1000 dollar fine for littering sign

But sometimes foreign language might play tricks even with well-known words. As I was descending down the rabbit hole I kept reading about Lush/Gorilla perfumes but there were no shops close to where I lived and buying Amouage or Tauer‘s samples seemed like a better idea. But one day, while on a vacation, I spotted a LUSH shop.

Have you been to a Lush store? In my opinion, it’s an offense on the olfactory system (Body Shop and Body Works are in the same boat) and I try to pass those stores while holding my breath. But I really wanted to try their perfumes – so I braced myself and went in. I don’t remember much. I think at the time they had five perfumes – The Smell Of Freedom, Tuca Tuca, Orange Blossom, Lust and … Breath of Dog. At least that was how I read it back then. And while it didn’t surprise me much (what else would you expect from Gorilla Perfume?), I wasn’t in the mood to subject my nose to that experiment on top of everything that was going on scent-wise in the store. So after quickly trying the other four I left.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized my mistake. But the damage had been done: I could never bring myself to testing that perfume. I see that it’s still (well, again) in production though new packaging looks beyond cheap and doesn’t inspire me to overcome my preconception.

Lush Breath Of Dog perfume

But as I have recently discovered, when it comes to perfumes and their names, someone’s native language can also be the culprit.

I realize how hard it is to come up with a name for a new perfume and maybe I’m being too partial when it comes to perfumes based on Russian culture or references (remember my rants about Swan Princess or Russian Tea?) but the name of the latest perfume from Suleko (a brand reflecting strong Russian heritage of its creator) – Baba Yaga – makes me shake my head every time I see it: What were they thinking?!!

On the brand’s site they tried to give it a spin: “Baba Yaga is the terrifying witch, which appears in the Russian tales. Since our childhood, she lives deep inside us and represents this dark force, which encompasses all our fears, our doubts, our anxieties. This force gradually grows upon our head and will get so powerful one day that we will have no other choice but to face it if we want to live instead of survive.” It’s such hogwash! (Should I have said “hagwash”?) Unlike the English word “witch”, which can bring any associations from the Hansel and Gretel‘s hag to the sexy trio from The Witches of Eastwick (and for which in Russian there is another word with the similar plenitude of meanings), “Baba Yaga” means one thing – “a hag who lived in the woods in a house on chickens legs. She would often ride through the forest on a mortar, sweeping away her tracks with a broom.” Together with the description of the bottle –“Two eyes are coming out of the wood, they watch you and challenge you, and Baba Yaga’s tortuous hands appear on one side; she is gradually coming out of the bark of the tree which one can feel with its coars [sic] and rugged touch.”- it makes me think of some bizarre hybrid of LOTR’s Gollum (psychobabble about living inside us) and Fangorn (the appearance).

Sand Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga on the picture above was made from the sand but it’s a good depiction of what comes to mind when a Russian-speaking person of any age hears that name. Would you like to wear this old lady perfume (literally!)?

Speaking of perfume, I can’t say it’s bad. It doesn’t smell cheap or artificial. But I didn’t find it interesting or appealing to me. And then again, that name…

Have you ever misjudged perfume or decided not to test it based on its name? If yes, which perfume was it and why?

Images: the first sign from here; the second sign from here; BOG – from Fragrantica (edited by me); Baba Yaga – my own.


24 thoughts on “lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation

  1. I have decided not to test Pussy Deluxe by Pussy Deluxe or Escada Moon Sparkle for Men, based solely on their stupid names. I have to admit that Moon Sparkle for Men has me wondering – just what is a moon sparkle anyway?


  2. So much to enjoy in this post! The ‘fine’ sign fun, the ‘hagwash’ – excellent! – and the BOG photoshopping wizardry. That is a perfume which can smell wonderful on some people but was horrible on me and I sent my decant away to a fellow fumehead labelled ‘Breath of Dog’. I don’t know if it spoiled her own sniffing pleasure. :)

    Love the Tower of Babel backwards, too. Just spotted that, haha.

    Yes – perfume names can put me off, especially where they are too clever-clever or obscure. Sorry that I can’t think of examples on the spot. Ones with lots of ‘y’s and ‘x’s or ‘z’s don’t do it for me either. Or numbers! Oh, and thanks for the mention!


    • Thank you, Vanessa. Every time I play with words I think of you :)
      I’m glad I wasn’t only one with the “dog” on my mind regarding this perfume – even though mine wasn’t intentional.

      Irisss…Yeah, those ‘s’es :)


  3. Interesting that you posted this, lately I noticed that when I read, I misread words and then end up with a question mark in my head because it doesn’t make sense. :) Then I re-read and realized the mistake.
    As for perfume names, there are some that make me not want to try them but none come to mind at the moment (besides, I am really bad with names).


  4. Excellent Undina, and I completely understand the Babayaga rant, I’m sure I’ve had the same but just can’t think of the exact perfume now. I must say that loads of the ELdO names I find are not provoking but just stupid. In the 90s a brand of sweets got on the market here, making different bonbons called dog farts, ear wax etc… And somehow it’s what ELdO always reminds me of. As Vanessa says the whole XYZ or numbers are out too. I will post again if I remember more specific ones :-)


  5. Oh this post was too good, Undina. The mis-interpretation of the litter sign was really sweet and I nearly spat out my tea-break grapes at “Breath of Dog”!

    Perfume brands seem to be trying to hoodwink us with phoney Russian folk-lore/traditions a lot lately :)

    The only off-putting name I can think of right now is “I Love My Man” by Dear Rose which Portia reviewed recently. Too funny/dumb.


    • Thank you, Tara.

      I’m sure brands are doing equally bad job with Asian or Arab motifs but there are no bloggers who would call them on it in our surroundings.

      As I commented on Portia’s post, I find the brand’s name itself somewhat off-putting for it being reminiscent of “Dear Abby.”


  6. Hahaha. Loved this.
    Lush is also responsible for one of the worst names for a perfume you want to sell to anyone in the German speaking world: Furze.

    That means fart. Not quite in that spelling, but close enough.


  7. Love this post! I can’t think of an off-putting perfume name right now but have one misread sign story to relate. Many years ago I flew in to Orlando, Florida to visit the happiest place on earth. We were standing in line waiting for our hotel shuttle to pick us up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that I read as “Characters Board Here”. I didn’t think much of it other than Disney must have some clout in the airport signage to have a special section for its employees. I kept craning my neck to spot characters but all I saw were ordinary people dressed in everyday clothes. I was bummed when the shuttle came and I still have not seen any characters. Anyway, as the shuttle passed the sign, I finally saw what the sign said — “Charter Buses Board Here”. Oh the power of suggestion… :-)


    • Great story, hajusuuri! :) I’ve never been to the “happiest place on earth” but I can imagine how being on the special mental wave one might start seeing things ;)


  8. I really enjoyed this post! Your post reminded me of the time I visited UK for the first time. In the shops, I found numerous “3 for 2” signs around and in my head, I translated them as “you only pay 2 pounds for 3 items”. I thought British were such generous people. :D
    One perfume name bothering me all these years is Mitsouko. As a Japanese speaking person, the spelling is not right… I keep thinking it should be Mitsuko.


    • Thank you, Magpie.

      Your “3 for 2” reminds me how for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what the mysterious “BOGO promotion” meant (just in case somebody is like I was, it’s “Buy One Get One free” – and I have no idea why the last “F” didn’t make it into the acronym).

      I hope that Mitsouko-Mitsuko spelling hasn’t prevented you from trying the perfume: it’s not one of my favorites, but it would be a pity if you decided not to try it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Undina, I got a great chuckle out of reading this post, especially your anecdote about the “$1000 Fine for Littering” sign, as I find myself often misinterpreting the meaning of things, quite often road signs (and I have no excuse, in the way that you did for not being familiar with the language, in the way that the word “fine” once tripped you up). And your “Breath of Dog” reminds me of how often I mistake the lyrics of popular songs. In my early teens, I was singing “I’m Not a Glove” (I thought this was a metaphor of some sort) to the 10CC tune, “I’m Not in Love.” My guitar teacher overheard me one day, and then teased me by expanding on the verse, “I’m not a glove …. I’m just a mitten.” :-)

    In answer to your question, similar to Asali, I really had no interest in trying the ELDO perfumes, not so much because I was offended by their comic artwork, but just because the artwork led me to believe that this was just a joke/novelty brand. I probably wouldn’t have tried their perfumes if Sigrun hadn’t sent some samples to me.


    • Suzanne, I had my share of mis-hearing in songs too, usually in my native language so I know how it happens. Though in your case your teacher should have been proud of your finding that “glove”: have you seen Yellow Submarine (an animated movie with Beatles songs)? Closer to the end the character based on John Lennon fights the Dreadful Flying Glove with the song All you need is Love (not the best quality but gives you the idea in case you haven’t seen it before).


  10. Hehe baba yaga does seem like a terrible name! Thanks for enlightening us with the imagery associated with the word in Russian- I never would have known. :)


    • It is a terrible name, any way you look at it. But, on the other hand, I don’t know the meaning of all perfumes I’m testing (or even buying) so they might do just fine if they find a proper market.


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