false friend

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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 nous demandons means "we ask", but to English-speakers it sounds like "we demand", which can turn negotiation into confrontation.
    • The Spanish word embarazada means "pregnant", not "embarrassed" — "Estoy embarazada" means "I am pregnant", not "I am embarrassed".
    • The Spanish word molestar means "to annoy", not "to molest".
    • The German word will (want) is not a future tense marker — "Ich will gehen" means "I want to go", not "I will go".
      • Same for Dutch and Afrikaans, "Ik wil gaan" and "Ek wil gaan" mean "I want to go".
    • The Italian word triviale (vulgar) does not mean 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 also Swedish) word gift does not mean gift as in present, but can mean a verb form of to marry; Han er gift means He is married. The word for gift is gave, which is close to the past tense of the verb giver. If du gav en gave, you gave a gift. Likewise, if du gav en gift, you actually gave poison. All of the aforementioned words are cognates, nevertheless.
    • 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.



See also[edit]