Translation and diplomacy – The case of Iran

In 1980, U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim visited Iran to negotiate the release of the American hostages. When Waldheim arrived in Tehran, he announced: “I have come as a mediator to work out a compromise.”

It turns out, however, that the Persian word for “compromise” has a negative meaning, referring to a sellout, as in “our principles were compromised.” And the Persian word for “mediator” implies a “meddler” rather than a helpful envoy.

Within an hour of Waldheim’s broadcast, angry Iranians started throwing stones at his car.

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