Google Translate Say What?

Photo adapted by / Image source: Joe Benjamin

When I read this article about Google Translate giving some funny translations on German idioms, I knew I would have to try some Spanish dichos. Here we go!


Dicho: Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.

Google Translate: Shrimp that falls asleep, he takes power.

Google Translate has apparently translated the word “corriente” as electrical current rather than the current of the tide. A proper translation would be “Shrimp that sleeps is taken away by the current” – which has the same meaning as the English idiom “You snooze, you lose.”


Dicho: A mal tiempo, buena cara.

Google Translate: A cloud has a silver face.

I can not even begin to tell you what Google Translate did here. The literal translation should be, “In bad times, good face.” The meaning is to put on a brave face during difficult times.


Dicho: A quién madruga, Dios le ayuda.

Google Translate: Who gets up early, God help him.

This one isn’t quite wrong exactly, but the tone of it makes it funny. It could be read almost like it means waking up early is so awful, one would need God’s help to do it. (Like, “Ugh, the alarm clock is going off! God help me, I want to sleep in!”)

A better translation would be, “He who wakes early, God helps.” The meaning is similar to the English saying, “God helps those who help themselves” or “The early bird catches the worm.”


Dicho: Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león.

Google Translate: Better be the head of lion-tailed mouse.

What?! No, no, no. I have no idea how Google Translate could screw up such an uncomplicated phrase. This should say, “Better to be a mouse’s head than a lion’s tail.”

What in the world does that mean? That it’s better to be a leader at a lower level than to be one among many at a higher level.


Dicho: A las mujeres bonitas y a los buenos caballos los echan a perder los pendejos.

Google Translate: A pretty women and good horses spoil assholes.

When I entered this one into Google Translate I was hoping for something funny but never imagined it would come up with this!

Here Google Translate has translated “echan a perder” to “spoil” (as in rotting food), but in this context it means “to lose.” Also, Google Translate went with “assholes” for “pendejos” … That isn’t wrong, but I would use idiots/fools in this context. The real translation: “Beautiful women and good horses are lost by idiots.”


Got your own favorite dicho you want to try out? Head over to Google Translate and let me know if you get anything funny!


  1. I tried “tiene mucha cola que le pisen” and it came out “tail that has a lot of tread”
    “al buen entendedor, pocas palabras” came out “the wise is short” (huh?)
    “echale ganas” as “win up, please”

    • “Win up, please” jajajaja. That doesn’t even strike the right tone let alone the right words! Maybe that’s how the Queen of England would say it?

  2. This is the most highly entertaining cautionary tale I’ve read in a long time. And I love your illustration, which is exactly right. When I first started using Google translate for the Spanish phrases in my novels (rather than keep bugging my patient and great friend in Monterrey via emails), I didn’t realize there’s an option to highlight parts for alternate versions, but quickly learned not to trust the first thing that comes up.

  3. There’s a dicho that my mom used to say A LOT (fyi, I’m Cuban). She used to say: El horno no esta para galleticas. Of course, google translates this as “The oven is not for cookies” I LOVE IT!

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