It is not just the disaster of Chinese-English translation that provides us with source material for the huge fund of hilariously inappropriate texts that we tag with Lost in Translation here on Language Log. Spanish provides them too. And here is one from Italian. What could possibly be the explanation for a failure as gross as translating RIFUGIO ("refuge") by the words "MOUNTAIN DEW"? What did they mean to put? Coca-Cola? Dr. Pepper?
It seems almost a shame to solve the mystery, yet I believe I can. And just as when one explains a conjuring trick, it's a total let-down. But this is Language Log: we aim to inform, not just to titillate. Not that there's anything wrong with that—in a well-balanced life there should be some titillation as well. If you would prefer titillation to information right now, try to work out the source of the error for yourself before you read on.
The Rifugio Luigi Gorza is a spectacularly sited ski chalet up a mountain near Portavescovo and Arabba in the Dolomites. They serve hot drinks and (this being the 21st century) provide free wireless Internet access. I believe that when the sign about its being closed in summertime was translated into English, the choice made from the array of senses that dictionaries record for rifugio was to translate it as "mountain den" instead of "mountain refuge". Tana would be a closer translation for "den", but rifugio is also commonly listed.
So somebody wrote down "MOUNTAIN DEN" in caps on a piece of paper, and the signmaker misread the last capital N as a W, and put "DEW" instead of "DEN", and nobody noticed. The sign should read: "The Luigi Gorza Refuge near Portavescovo is closed during the summer."
Sorry to ruin it for you, but I think that is probably the etiology of this particular signwriting error. (Not quite as arcane or fascinating as the stuff by Victor Mair, is it?)
Thanks to Marion Owen for sending the picture and asking about the mistranslation.