It seemed like a great idea at the time, and Braniff Airways officials still insist to this day that it was. They wanted to run a series of ads promoting the leather seats in may of their planes, and they wanted especially to reach the Spanish-speaking community in Miami, Florida. Accordingly, they launched a campaign in the Spanish media urging passengers, “Sentado en Cuero,” or “sit in leather.” Technically, the language is perfect, but the execs failed to reckon with the pitfalls of slang.
“Cuero,” apparently, does mean leather, but it also means skin, as in bare skin, and…well…Braniff’s ads request that passengers “sit naked” on their flights!
Incidents like this are not really so very rare. When Chevrolet came out with a new line of cars called the Nova, Hispanics, snidely noted that the name combines two Spanish words, “no” and “va,” which mean “it doesn’t go.” And who can forget the time President Jimmy Carter’s interpreter told a group of Polish citizens that the Chief Executive had, not a deep love, but an erotic desire for Poles!
When moving from language to language, or even speaking in our mother tongue, we need to be careful, as Dr. Seuss’ famous elephant, Horton, once put it, to mean what we say and say what we mean.
Nowhere os this more true than in sharing the Gospel. Too many times, ew fall into “churchspeak,” assuming that the person to whom we are witnessing knows that “vicarious atonement” means “Jesus dies for you.” or that “delivered from eternal condemnation” means “saved from Hell.” 1 Corinthians 14:8 reminds us that if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, no one will prepare himself for the battle. We need to blow reveille in sharp, clear blasts like “sin,” “cross,” and “saved.” Remember, it’s not enough that you understand what you say; the lost man must understand what he hears!
From The Fountain by Doug Jackson