Getting to know your false friends


False friends are words in two languages (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazada (which means pregnant), or the word sensible, which means reasonable in English, but sensitive in French and Spanish. –From Wikipedia

Translators are interested in such things, they find them interesting, at times annoying or amusing. A few examples off the top of my head.

Hell in German is the opposite of dark, it means bright, full of light, so it is actually something very pleasant.

The superbly elegant shoe brand is surely successful all over the world except for German-speaking countries where its name means death.

Pathologist comes from the Greek, like most words pertaining to Medicine. However a “pathologos” in Greece is a GP whereas a pathologist is called “pathologoanatomos”.

Deception in French means disappointment. Aren’t we always disappointed by deceivers?

Empathy comes also from the Greek word “pathos” meaning passion. In Greek it doesn’t mean putting yourself into the place of another in order to feel how he or she feels and better understand them. It means to be passionately prejudiced against someone, almost inimical. So, quite the contrary of what it means in English.

Some very famous false friends in Italian and Spanish are the words for butter and donkey. They are both “burro”.

And of course an all-time classic when you try to think between German and Italian, the „kalt“ – „caldo“ combination. They sound similar but they are complete opposites like cold and hot.

“Also” as the Germans would say not meaning also but trying to wrap up a conversation. “Also” these were some examples of false friends in a few languages.

July 1, 2017.