false friend

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

Calque of French faux ami, from the longer phrase faux amis du traducteur (false friends of a translator), first used by Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in 1928 in their book Les Faux Amis ou les trahisons du vocabulaire anglais (False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary).[1]

Pronunciation[edit]

Noun[edit]

false friend (plural false friends)

  1. (linguistics, idiomatic) A word in a language that bears a deceptive resemblance to a word in another language but in fact has a different meaning. The words in question may well be etymologically related, but in such cases semantic shifts have made them drift apart.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Examples:
    • The French verb demander means "to ask", but to English-speakers it sounds like "to demand", which could turn negotiation into confrontation.
    • The Spanish adjective embarazado (more often used in the feminine form, embarazada) means pregnant, not embarrassed — "estoy embarazada" means "I am pregnant", not "I am embarrassed".
    • The Spanish verb molestar means "to annoy", not "to molest".
    • The German verb will means "to want", and is not a future tense marker — "Ich will gehen" means "I want to go", not "I will go".
      • Similarly, the word wil in Dutch and Afrikaans means "to want": "Ik wil gaan" (Dutch) and "Ek wil gaan" (Afrikaans) mean "I want to go".
    • The Italian adjective triviale means vulgar, not trivial, though the two words do share a common Latin root (trivium that in Latin means crossroad); "Questo è triviale" means "This is in bad taste", not "This is obvious".
    • The Danish and Swedish noun gift means poison, not something given.
    • The Chinese 手紙手纸 (shǒuzhǐ) means "toilet paper", but to Japanese-speakers it may be mistaken for the Kanji word made up of the same characters which is pronounced as tegami and means "letter".
    • The Hindi बनाना (banānā) means "to make", but sounds like English banana.

Hyponyms[edit]

Translations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Christoph Gutknecht (2001), “Translation”, in Mark Aronoff, Janie Rees-Miller, editors, The Handbook of Linguistics, Blackwell Publishers