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Over the years, I've heard the following anecdote repeated often as an example of marketing-gone-bad:

In Argentina (or sometimes, Latin America), Colgate-Palmolive faced huge hurdles in marketing their brand of toothpaste, Colgate, as it effectively translate to, Go Hang Yourself!

Is this true? Here is one of many sites that make this claim.

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I can vouch for the translation: "colgate" here means "hang yourself" or "hang you". Notice that this differs from "normal" Spanish (Spain and most Latin America), because our "voseo" (for familiar second person speaking) alters grammar -in Spain it would be "cuélgate".

This matches the testimony here.

It must have been surely an unfortunate coincidence for the marketers, but I don't believe that it was a great deal; people just understand and get over it. And I don't think that the coincidence is so terrible as it might sound. First, we don't normally use that word to as a colloquial insult or curse, as in English - Spanish speakers might say instead: 'matate' (kill yourself) o 'pegate un tiro' (fire yourself). Furthermore, the verb "colgar" has quite other meanings, apart from the act of killing hanging from a rope. For example, currently, it's also used as younger slang for "to take part of something" (similar to "hang out") and there are more related "positive" meanings.

There has been some much more unfortunate coincidences: the Mitsubishi Pajero had to be changed (to Montero) because pajero is a very strong and vulgar word in many Spanish-speaking regions (wanker).

Update: an interesting point is raised in the comments, regarding the pronunciation. We (I'm speaking about Argentina, and most non-English-speaking countries) are used to pronounce most "foreign" words not by following the Spanish phonetic rules, but with the original sounds (well... approximately). Say, we pronounce "Seven Up" as if the last syllable had a Spanish 'a'. But a word like 'Colgate' can make us hesitate, because it feels like a Spanish word, but we (might) know that it's foreign. And, indeed, a few people here pronounce 'colgueit', ala English. A consensus is normally formed, often driven by TV-radio announcements. Hence (and this is the point of this disgression) one might guess that the marketing should have try to impose the 'foreign' pronounciation in the announcements, to dispell the unfortunate coincidence with the Spanish verb. However, for some reason, that didn't happen (because the Spanish pronounciation was already established, or because the coincidence didn't matter? I'd bet for the later, but that's just my guess). See for example here (Mexico, ~1960) and here (Argentina, ~2010). The same happens in Italy.

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    Usually, we'd ask for references, but this matches the testimony here, and I don't think there's any reason to doubt your description, especially given that Colgate did not change their brand name. – user5582 Jan 9 '14 at 18:22
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    Thank you. While the answer is helpful, it doesn't really confirm if Colgate faced any marketing issues due to this in Argentina or other Latin American countries. – user7920 Jan 10 '14 at 5:04
  • Please avoid giving unreferenced answers. I've added them for you - it only takes a minute. – Sklivvz Jan 10 '14 at 10:40
  • @vartec - Technically "no va" does translate as "doesn't go", but "no va" is pronounced differently than "nova" in Spanish, and "va" probably wouldn't be used in that context and GM never changed the name. It's basically a witticism along the lines of Found On Road Dead or Fix It Again Tony. – Compro01 Jan 10 '14 at 14:26
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    Would you pronounce the brand name exactly as the verb or do you stress different vowels? – nico Jan 10 '14 at 18:01

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