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Offensive phrases on bottle caps prompt Coca-Cola to cancel Canadian promotion

A printed bottle cap is shown in a handout photo from Blake Loates.

Blake Loates/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Coca-Cola has cancelled a Canadian promotion that paired randomly generated English and French words inside bottle caps after an Edmonton woman got one that said "You Retard."

Blake Loates said she and her husband were eating at a restaurant in Edmonton earlier this week when her husband read the cap off his bottle of Vitaminwater.

"Both my husband and I were pretty shocked. We couldn't actually believe what we were seeing," Loates said. "We thought maybe it was a joke or that maybe a rogue employee got a hold of the lid machine and wrote it."

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Loates said she found it particularly offensive because she has a younger sister who is developmentally delayed.

Shannon Denny, director of brand communications with Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada, said consumers were supposed to collect the caps to combine words into humorous sentences.

Anglophones would use the English words and francophones would use the French ones, she explained.

Denny said the problem was the word lists for each language were approved separately and that in French, "retard" simply means late.

"Some words that were on the list, such as the one we were contacted about, have a completely innocuous meaning in French and are used regularly within French conversations," Denny said.

"But when you look at that word from an English standpoint, it takes on a much different, offensive meaning. And that was an oversight on our part during that review process."

Denny said the complaint from Edmonton wasn't the only gaffe. One consumer contacted the company after finding a cap with the word "douche" printed on it.

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"It's the French word for shower," Denny explained.

In addition to cancelling the campaign, Denny said the company will destroy all of the caps with words printed on them. She said Coca-Cola was still deciding how to deal with the printed caps that are already on bottles.

The company has apologized to Loates, and to her father, who Loates said wrote the company to complain about the word on the bottle cap.

But Loates said her dad is having difficulty accepting it.

"That word is forbidden from my parents home," Loates said. "It's equivalent to the 'N' word."

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