Words common to different languages with different meanings

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Words common to different languages with different meanings

Postby Dopefish » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:37 pm UTC

I'm thinking primarily of words with completely different meanings, I know many words don't directly translate between languages, but I would expect that things would often have a similar root and so at least be somewhat similar. I'm imagining more along the lines of where the same word just happened to evolve independantly.

I can't actually think of any examples, but then I only speak english and a tiny bit of french, and I'm guessing there are words that have completely different meanings in other languages that might be interesting to know.

I'm inspired by the idea of people trying to say something completely innocent but inadvertantly saying something really offensive, but even innocent to innocent type of mixups would probably be interesting. I know I've heard of people saying things like "pardon my french" when saying various swear words in English, but my French isn't good enough to actually know if those words actually do have innocent meanings or if it's just an expression with other origins.

As a made up example, an English speaker might want to ask "Where could I buy a map?" in language X, and say "tup flit ta blum sango map?" in the hopes that "map" is either the right word or close enough, when in fact what was said translates to "Where could I buy a wife?" or something like that.

So do people have more examples where the English word is also an $other_language word with a completely different meaning? (I suppose English doesn't have to be one of the languages involved if people can think of exmaples in other languages, but English translations would be nice for the non-polyglots.)

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby dean.menezes » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:01 pm UTC

phoque = seal and sounds like the f-word.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby jaap » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:16 pm UTC

False Friends - words that are similar in form but have a completely different meaning.
Most of these are pairs of words that have a common root, but that is not a requirement, so you seem to be looking only for those unrelated ones. There are a few examples on that page. It seems related to false cognates:
False Cognates - words that are similar in form and meaning but actually unrelated

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:26 pm UTC

When I was in China, one of the guides told a story illustrating the importance of tone and accent in China where a group of migrant workers were at a dumpling house in Shanghai trying to order some cheap dumplings and were confused when the owner got upset because he thought they'd asked for a cheap prostitute.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Dopefish » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:43 pm UTC

Ah, yes, that false friend thing seems to be what I had in mind. I figured there was a term/phrase for it but had no idea what it was or how to search for it, so thanks for that.

The common root (or lack thereof) part was just a guess on my part for how the words could end up with completely different meanings, since I would have guessed that the same root would lead to words meaning similar things. For what I had in mind I don't care if they're cognates or not, so long as the meanings differ.

I'll read over that wiki page, I'm happy to hear any other examples people might have. Cases where they're spelled the same but are pronounced differently, or case where they're pronounced the same but spelled differently are fine, as are things where tone is particularly important as given above.

eSOANEM wrote:When I was in China, one of the guides told a story illustrating the importance of tone and accent in China where a group of migrant workers were at a dumpling house in Shanghai trying to order some cheap dumplings and were confused when the owner got upset because he thought they'd asked for a cheap prostitute.


I'd ask how you say dumplings in comparison to how you say prostitute, except I get the feeling I wouldn't know to to express/interpret the differences in text.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 11:59 pm UTC

水餃 shuǐ jiǎo: dumplings
睡覺 shuì jiào: to go to bed

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Dopefish » Tue Aug 21, 2012 5:19 am UTC

goofy wrote:水餃 shuǐ jiǎo: dumplings
睡覺 shuì jiào: to go to bed


Thank you. My feeling was correct.

I really should force myself to figure out this IPA business and related stuff, but my (admitedly brief) look at the resources seems to have it basicly go "Heres everything, and what they sound like. Good, now you know IPA." which is fairly ineffective for learning (for me at least).

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:07 pm UTC

Dopefish wrote:I really should force myself to figure out this IPA business and related stuff, but my (admitedly brief) look at the resources seems to have it basicly go "Heres everything, and what they sound like. Good, now you know IPA." which is fairly ineffective for learning (for me at least).


That's not IPA, it's Pinyin. The first example has third tone, and the second has fourth tone.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Tue Aug 21, 2012 4:05 pm UTC

And the tone marks very roughly correspond to the tone pattern: A down stroke is a falling tone, a "u" stroke is a dipping (falling, then rising) tone. Although my understanding (I don't speak any Chinese) is that the actual tones depend on the context.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:25 pm UTC

In some Latin American countries "coke" can mean Coca-cola, it some it can only mean "Cocaine".
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Gigano » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:53 am UTC

Dutch and German have quite a weird false friend duo: zee & meer (Dutch), and See & Meer (German). The words are spelled almost exactly the same (minus the initial capital), but have completely opposite meanings:

Zee means sea in Dutch, but See means lake in German.

Meer means lake in Dutch, but Meer means sea in German.

For Dutch and German speakers it can be quite confusing. Even more so because in German, the North Sea is called Nordsee, and there is a lake called Zwischenahner Meer.

Also, in Dutch there is the word file (pronounced FEE-luh), which means traffic jam or congestion. In English it can be all sorts of things, including a tool, a column of people or a collection of computer data or actual papers.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby rolo91 » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:06 pm UTC

I'm from Spain, and in my last year of high school we had a native English teacher from the US. She didn't speak Spanish quite well, to be honest.

One day, she told us that she just had an embarrassing moment in a shop. She asked for "carne sin preservativos".

She wanted to ask for meat without preservatives. However, in Spanish, "preservativos" means condoms :lol:

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Pressed Bunson » Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:54 pm UTC

In an embarrassing amount of Germanic languages, six is pronounced "sex".
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:25 pm UTC

The thing about recursion problems is that they tend to contain other recursion problems.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Fri Aug 24, 2012 2:12 pm UTC

Pressed Bunson wrote:In an embarrassing amount of Germanic languages, six is pronounced "sex".


Once upon a time, BMW advertised its 6-cylinder machine as "sexzylinder" :).

And, of course, I have a list.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Sat Aug 25, 2012 12:50 am UTC

Eugo wrote:
And, of course, I have a list.


I'm confused about what after all has to do with posle svega.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:37 am UTC

goofy wrote:
Eugo wrote:
And, of course, I have a list.


I'm confused about what after all has to do with posle svega.

It appears to be a word-for-word translation, but presumably with a different actual meaning. Though his actual translation of "posle svega" is "when all is said and done", which is pretty similar "after all", so I'm not sure.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:54 am UTC

Derek wrote:
goofy wrote:
Eugo wrote:
And, of course, I have a list.


I'm confused about what after all has to do with posle svega.

It appears to be a word-for-word translation, but presumably with a different actual meaning. Though his actual translation of "posle svega" is "when all is said and done", which is pretty similar "after all", so I'm not sure.


Exactly so. Some false friends I have included are such phrases (as in "make a difference") which translate 1:1 into phrases with different meanings. I'd call those "false friends of the 2nd kind".
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Sat Aug 25, 2012 3:47 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
Derek wrote:It appears to be a word-for-word translation, but presumably with a different actual meaning. Though his actual translation of "posle svega" is "when all is said and done", which is pretty similar "after all", so I'm not sure.


Exactly so. Some false friends I have included are such phrases (as in "make a difference") which translate 1:1 into phrases with different meanings. I'd call those "false friends of the 2nd kind".


Are you saying that posle svega is a loan translation of English after all? How do you know?

Also, I'd guess that a lot of these words (for instance autoritet and merkur) were borrowed from German, not English.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:19 pm UTC

That still makes them false friends. The point is that they are similar in form, usually sharing an etymology, but have different meanings.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:39 pm UTC

Derek wrote:That still makes them false friends. The point is that they are similar in form, usually sharing an etymology, but have different meanings.


Fair enough. But is Eugo saying that posle svega is a loan translation from English? Or is he saying it's a phrase that happens to be similar in form and meaning to the English phase?

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:07 pm UTC

Derek wrote:That still makes them false friends. The point is that they are similar in form, usually sharing an etymology, but have different meanings.

They use the same words (i.e. the primary meanings of which are equivalent), but the phrases thus coined have different meanings.

The main trouble with false friends is that they are traps for translators who may be unaware of them. This kind of false friend does the same.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:20 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:They use the same words (i.e. the primary meanings of which are equivalent), but the phrases thus coined have different meanings.

The main trouble with false friends is that they are traps for translators who may be unaware of them. This kind of false friend does the same.


Serbian posle translates as English after, but I wouldn't say that makes these two words the "same word". And exactly what is the difference in meaning between after all and posle svega? And how does this pose a trap for translators? Are you saying that posle svega is a loan translation (ie, a borrowing) from English?

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:07 pm UTC

goofy wrote:Serbian posle translates as English after, but I wouldn't say that makes these two words the "same word". And exactly what is the difference in meaning between after all and posle svega? And how does this pose a trap for translators? Are you saying that posle svega is a loan translation (ie, a borrowing) from English?

Well, after all, "after all" isn't exactly the same as "posle svega" - which means "after all [of it has passed]", "at the end of it all". For the "after all" as I used it in the first sentence, we'd say "napokon".

"Pa, posle svega, 'posle svega' nije isto što i 'after all' "... would be exactly the trap a translator would fall into, because "posle", in serbian, always implies a "before", i.e. something previous. It definitely does not imply any of
- Emphasizes something to be considered; "after all, she is your boss, so invite her"; "he is, after all, our president".
- In spite of expectations; "came to the party after all"; "it didn't rain after all"
- When everything has been considered; upon the whole

I'd agree that there are no "same" words; such an odd couple is very rare between serbian and english, the former having usually only one or two meanings and far fewer connotations than the latter. I took the "same" as in "the meaning a translator would grab first, in either direction". And it's definitely not a borrowing, just a coincidence.

I wasn't trying to prove anything this time, but it's nice to see the old pattern at work: one example out of the heap will be picked and submitted to scientific rigor, while the rest will be ignored. And I don't mean only here - I've been online since 1990, and around web fora since 1997, and this pattern emerged dozens of times, in various contexts. I'm composing those lists slowly, over the years, a bit at a time, and I do it as a hobby, after all. So don't expect everything to be academically strict.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby goofy » Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:15 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:I wasn't trying to prove anything this time, but it's nice to see the old pattern at work: one example out of the heap will be picked and submitted to scientific rigor, while the rest will be ignored. And I don't mean only here - I've been online since 1990, and around web fora since 1997, and this pattern emerged dozens of times, in various contexts. I'm composing those lists slowly, over the years, a bit at a time, and I do it as a hobby, after all. So don't expect everything to be academically strict.


Most of the words in that list are clearly borrowings, so it's clear how they are false friends. But posle svega is not a borrowing. I picked it because I was confused about it was doing there. I'm still not sure I understand what it's doing there. praviti razliku is another one.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:55 pm UTC

It's certainly not the typical definition of "false friend", but I can see where Eugo is coming from. Basically, "posle svega" does not have the idiomatic meanings of "after all", so someone translating too literally might make a mistake.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:59 pm UTC

But if we include idiomatic phrases whose literal word-for-word translations don't mean the same thing, surely we'd end up just including *all* idioms in *all* languages, wouldn't we?

After all, isn't an idiom pretty much just a phrase whose meaning as a unit doesn't match up with the meanings of its individual words? Most of them are "type 2 false friends" within their own languages, if you treat synonyms like translations. "Manual labor" and "hand job" do not have remotely the same meaning, despite the fact that "manual" means "hand" and "labor" means "job".
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:53 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:"Manual labor" and "hand job" do not have remotely the same meaning, despite the fact that "manual" means "hand" and "labor" means "job".

lol, I like that one.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:20 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:But if we include idiomatic phrases whose literal word-for-word translations don't mean the same thing, surely we'd end up just including *all* idioms in *all* languages, wouldn't we?

I take that as the royal "we" - I wouldn't relativize that far. I picked only a few of this kind, for which a literal translation has a meaning in the other language, but means something completely different. Like "cry uncle", which is what our kids do when playing hide and seek, and is not a shout of despair at all, but a way to taunt the seeker (specially if coming from several places at once), or "fill a prescription" (which means dispensing medicine in english, and filling out the form in serbian), "intimate relationship" (which is here the official euphemism for copulation), "make a difference" (to distinguish between two of something, specially treating them differently) and that's all.

After all, isn't an idiom pretty much just a phrase whose meaning as a unit doesn't match up with the meanings of its individual words? Most of them are "type 2 false friends" within their own languages, if you treat synonyms like translations. "Manual labor" and "hand job" do not have remotely the same meaning, despite the fact that "manual" means "hand" and "labor" means "job".

They may be false friends to anyone who doesn't know them - I'm sure everyone was confused at some point, when one of those came up and made no sense. And those where latin and local versions have different meanings must be rather frequent - sometimes the latin was specifically picked to carry a different meaning, e.g. optimal vs best, or major vs bigger.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Carlington » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:20 pm UTC

Not all that unfortunate, but while I was learning German, I'd often get in trouble for using the German "also" at the beginning of sentences, as one would use "also" in English. The proper German word would be "Außerdem".
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby tms » Fri Sep 21, 2012 1:48 am UTC

French (English) / Romanian (English)

rai (spoke) rai (paradise)

English / Finnish (English)

side side (bond)

Swedish (English) / Finnish (English)

sade (said) sade (rain)

Italian (English) / Finnish (English)

lume (lamp) lume (illusion)
santa (saint) santa (sand)
tutti (all) tutti (pacifier)
matto (crazy) matto (carpet)
vero (true) vero (tax)

Hungarian (English) / Finnish (English)

heti (weekly) heti (immediately)

Japanese (English) / Finnish (English)

hiki (backing) hiki (sweat)
kumi (class) kumi (rubber)
suu (suck) suu (mouth)
hai (yes) hai (shark)

Dutch (English) / Finnish (English)

kade (quay) kade (envious)

French (English) / Finnish (English)

lait (milk) lait (laws)

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby ThirdParty » Fri Sep 21, 2012 2:45 am UTC

I remember back when I was learning Spanish, I kept getting thrown off by English color words being used as nouns.

una "red" refers to a net.
un "hielo" (pronounced "yellow") refers to an ice cube.

I think there were others too, but I've forgotten what they were. Hace muchos años desde que mi entendimiento de Español se fue.

And then, of course, there's everyone's favorite false friend, "embarazada", which means pregnant.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Fri Sep 21, 2012 5:43 pm UTC

Pressed Bunson wrote:In an embarrassing amount of Germanic languages, six is pronounced "sex".

Maybe if you have a crazy weird accent
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Makri » Sun Sep 23, 2012 5:42 pm UTC

Well, at least it is in certain varieties of German. (I distinguish them, though, 'six' being /zeks/ and 'sex' being /seks/, as far as I can tell.)

side side (bond)
lait (milk) lait (laws)


These words are very different, though, they just happen to be written the same; so I don't think they quite count.
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Envelope Generator » Mon Sep 24, 2012 1:20 pm UTC

Reading a bilingual edition of Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal, I was confused by the phrase "oreiller de chair fraîche" which was translated as something like "a couch of flesh". Why did the translator turn the chair into a couch...

(French "chair" = English "flesh")
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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby steewi » Thu Sep 27, 2012 5:00 am UTC

Despite knowing nothing about business, nor pastries, I've toyed with the idea of a combination kinky sex-shop cum bakery* called The House of Pain.

*that's conjunction-cum, not jizz-cum... that would be a cum-bakery, which would possibly feature as a speciality of the pastry side of things.

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Gasha » Tue Oct 09, 2012 8:47 am UTC

Swedish - English is all over this. "Kiss" and "Pink" both mean "urine" (the first one being slightly more formal, the second one analogous to English's "piss"). "sex" means both "six" and "sex", but somehow this is never a problem, though my younger students (ages 13-14) will often giggle when divided into groups, as one of the groups will invariably be "Group six", pronounced and spelled identically to "group sex".

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Musette » Wed Oct 10, 2012 4:52 pm UTC

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:
Pressed Bunson wrote:In an embarrassing amount of Germanic languages, six is pronounced "sex".

Maybe if you have a crazy weird accent


Ehrm, in German, the word which means the numeral six is "sechs."

The "ch" portion is pronounced IPA-wise 'k'; [seks]= similar or near identical pronunciation to English "sex."

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Derek » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:26 pm UTC

I thought "ch" in German was pronounced /x/? Is this a dialectical variation?

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Re: Words common to different languages with different meani

Postby Eugo » Wed Oct 10, 2012 11:55 pm UTC

Derek wrote:I thought "ch" in German was pronounced /x/? Is this a dialectical variation?


I think it is (although it's closer to sh in the north, AFAIR, and amazingly, most North Americans learn to pronounce it that way). But when it precedes a s, it's still possible to pronounce it so - but I guess nobody does it. So it changes into a k, for the ease of pronunciation.

I guess resident linguists would know what kind of change is this and how it's called.
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