Faulty translation leads to racial slur on couch label
Apr. 19, 2007
TORONTO - Doris Moore was shocked when her new couch was delivered to her
home with a label that used a racial slur to describe the dark brown shade of
The situation was even more alarming for Moore because it was her 7-year-old
daughter who pointed out "n----- brown" on the tag.
"My daughter saw the label and she knew the color brown, but didn't know what
the other word meant. She asked, Mommy, what color is that?' I was stunned. I
didn't know what to say. I never thought that's how she'd learn of that word,"
Moore said. The mother complained to the furniture store, which blamed the
supplier, who pointed to a computer problem as the source of the derogatory
Kingsoft Corp., a Chinese software company, acknowledged its translation program
was at fault and said it was a regrettable error.
"I know this is a very bad word," Huang Luoyi, a product manager for the
Beijing-based company's translation software, told The Associated Press in a
He explained that when the Chinese characters for "dark brown" are typed into an
older version of its Chinese-English translation software, the offensive N-word
description comes up.
"We got the definition from a Chinese-English dictionary. We've been using the
dictionary for 10 years. Maybe the dictionary was updated, but we probably
didn't follow suit," he said.
Moore, who is black, said Kingsoft's acknowledgment of a mistake doesn't make
her feel better.
"They should know what they are typing, even if it is a software error," she
said. "In order for something to come into the country, don't they read it
first? Doesn't the manufacturer? The supplier?"
Romesh Vanaik, owner of Vanaik Furniture where Moore bought the sofa, said it
has been a best seller. He said he checked his stock but found no other couch
with the offensive label.
He added that he had not known the meaning of the N-word.
"It's amazing. I've been here since 1972 and I never knew the meaning of this
word," said Vanaik, a native of India.
His supplier, Paul Kumar of Cosmos Furniture in Toronto, denied responsibility
and refused to give the name of the couch's Chinese manufacturer.
"It's not my fault. It's not the manufacturers' fault," he said, adding that
Kingsoft was to blame.
Huang said Kingsoft has worked to correct the translation error. In the 2007
version, typing "dark brown" in Chinese does not produce the racial slur in
English. But if the offensive term is typed in English, the Chinese translation
is "dark brown," he said.
Moore is consulting with a lawyer and wants compensation. Last week, she filed a
report with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Commission spokeswoman Afroze Edwards said the case is in the initial stages and
could take six months to two years to resolve.
Moore, 30, has three young children, and said the issue has taken a toll on her
"Something more has to be done. We don't just need a personal apology, but
someone needs to own up to where these labels were made, and someone needs to
apologize to all people of color," Moore said. "I had friends over from St.
Lucia yesterday and they wouldn't sit on the couch."