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!
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.
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.
In Romanian, crap means carp, which is a type of commonly-eaten fish. To be fair, English has a fish called a crappie.
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!
Kiss has a more juvenile meaning in Swedish – pee. Simple, yet amusing!
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.
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.
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.
Barf in Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu means snow.
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!