10 English words that mean something else in other languages

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One of the greatest simple joys of learning a new language is stumbling across a word that has a completely different meaning in English. In linguistics, these words are called “false friends”, and they occur when two words from two different languages (or dialects) either look or sound similar, but have different meanings. False friends happen for a number of reasons, but they often occur by chance or by sharing an etymological origin that has diverged over time.

These types of words can be confusing for both language learners and translators, but they can also be funny and interesting to those of us that still appreciate a little grade school humor. So wake up your inner child and get to reading, because we’ve rounded up 10 of the most giggle-worthy English language false friends just for you!

1. Fart

We all know the English meaning of the word fart, but did you know that fart means speed in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish? If that doesn’t make you snicker enough, the words for speed bump in each language are fartbump, fartshump, and farthinder.

farthinder

2. Gift

In German, a gift is not quite as pleasant as in English – it means poison! Taking it a step further, gift in the Scandinavian languages can mean both poison and marriage. These two meanings are related and stem from the same root word, to give.

3. Crap

In Romanian, crap means carp, which is a type of commonly-eaten fish. To be fair, English has a fish called a crappie.

Crap

4. Brat

As perhaps the most fitting example on our list, brat (or ????) means brother in Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Croatian, and Serbian. Next time you call your brother a brat, just tell him you’re learning one of these languages!

5. Kiss

Kiss has a more juvenile meaning in Swedish – pee. Simple, yet amusing!

kiss-kiss-kiss

6. Preservative

In France, a préservatif isn’t quite what you might expect. If you tend to have many conversations about jams and jellies, it might be useful to be aware that préservatif actually means condom. In fact, many European languages have variations of preservative that all mean condom.

no-added-preservatives

7.Lol

The ubiquitous piece of Internet slang lol is either an acronym or initialism depending on how you would pronounce it, but in Dutch it means fun.

lol

8. Slut

Slut is yet another false friend coming from Swedish, in which it means end (and rhymes with loot). If you happen to see Slut onscreen after watching a film, it’s the equivalent to The End. And Slutstation is not what you might hope – it’s just the last stop on a train route.

slutstation

9. Barf

Barf in Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu means snow.

barf-special

10. Sean Bean

If the actor known for Game of Thrones ever goes to Ireland, he might be surprised to learn that his name translates to old woman in Irish. This one might be a bit of a stretch, because while the individual words do mean old and woman, one would need to say seanbhean in order to be grammatically correct.

There you have it, 10 of our favorite false friends that have different meanings outside of English! Keep in mind that most of these are pronounced differently than their English friends and only work in writing. Did we get something lost in translation or miss any of your favorite false friends? Let us know in the comments!

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16 replies
  1. Izzywhizzy
    Izzywhizzy says:

    Oh yeah, like “part” is estonian duck and “seaside” is a combination of two words that would mean something like “pig’s bond”. etc

    Reply
  2. Ja
    Ja says:

    In Polish “Mama dai, dai, dai” would sound exactly like English “die” and mean “give” ? – it is the same situation as Tatjana gave in Russian.
    And also “fart” in Polish mean luck or lucky strike 😉

    Reply
  3. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    In Romanian
    Tip – guy
    Nod – knot
    Mare – sea (noun) and big (adjective)
    Curve – whores (plural)
    Cap – head
    Gust – taste
    Tort – birthday cake
    Cub – cube
    Bare – bars (plural)
    Tare – strong or hard
    Stup – hive
    Bun – good (adjective)

    Reply
  4. Christina von Bonsdorff
    Christina von Bonsdorff says:

    To pee in Swedish is KISSA ! Kiss kiss means what you say when you want your cat to come. Iike pus pus in English.

    Reply
  5. Linda in DK
    Linda in DK says:

    Dunst means bad odor, or sickening odor in Danish. Yet a famous screen actress (guess who) proudly goes by this last name name. And she’s been happy to be in Denmark: oops, ‘wonder if anybody ever told her what dunst means. . .
    If you say you go to Skidmore (the college) this would evoke laughter in Denmark because skid means shit.

    Reply
  6. Alex
    Alex says:

    In estonian hell = tender and hunt = wolf. We have a pub named Hell Hunt in our capital city Tallinn. Pun intended 🙂

    Reply

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