Students respond to IUB T-shirt mistranslations


Photo courtesy of Lucía Sánchez

A display of “Hail to the Orange” and “Illinois” t-shirts translated in different languages at the Illinois Union Bookstore. Some of the t-shirts were mistranslated and quickly gained student attention.

By Vivian La, Assistant News Editor

In an effort to “show international pride,” the Illini Union Bookstore announced their collection of T-shirts featuring 13 language translations of “Illinois” or “Hail to the orange” two weeks ago.

The shirts – some with translations that were awkward or completely wrong – quickly caught the attention of students. For example, the Spanish shirt said “granizo a la naranja” and instead of meaning “hail to the orange,” it translated to throwing ice at an orange fruit.

The IUB issued a statement online after a day of the shirts being available online and in store, apologizing for “missing the mark”. 

Lucía Sánchez, a graduate student in LAS, said she saw the Spanish mistranslation and immediately ordered four shirts for herself and her friends.

“At first, I thought it was a very elaborate meme until I looked at the bookstore’s website, and there they were,” Sánchez said. “And I thought it was absolutely hilarious.”

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Charlotte Prieu, who recently completed her PhD in French linguistics, said the shirt in French translated to “hi to the orange,” which doesn’t sound natural.

Prieu followed some of the discussions online, which ranged from poking fun at the bookstore’s mistake to annoyance that no one noticed the mistake before the shirts were put on display.

While the situation was funny to her, Prieu said she recognizes it was careless.

“If you’re going to have some merch to represent the University, you might want to make sure that it’s accurate,” Prieu said. 

Sánchez said she’s heard a lot of people say that the language department should have been contacted – which she doesn’t necessarily agree with.

“Just because we are bilingual speakers/linguists doesn’t mean we are translators or have the necessary skills to provide a translation,” she said.

Even though some translations were seen as funny errors, online conversations have pointed out that the German version of the shirt could be problematic, as reported in The News-Gazette last week.

Ren Bongiovanni, a senior in LAS who works at the bookstore in the Starbucks, said lots of people have reached out to them since the shirts’ removal to ask if there were any left.

The school could’ve done a better job at appreciating these communities, Bongiovanni said.

“I just think this was a big flop,” Bongiovanni said. “I think it’s kind of insulting to the students that they’re trying to show support for. The least they could have done is ensure that this was the right thing before they decided to get money for it.”

Bongiovanni said students and others in the community should think before supporting a business.

“There’s tons of LGBTQ+ and people of color who own their own small businesses,” Bongiovanni said. “And I think if you want a product like that, maybe you should explore that option.”

As for the range of responses the shirts have caused, Prieu said she thinks everyone has a different sense of humor. It was both amusing and unfortunate for Prieu.

“I was almost disappointed that (the French shirt) was not as funny as the Spanish translation, because then I would have bought the T-shirt,” Prieu said.


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