Funny False Friends

Even if you don’t speak any Slavic language, you’d probably recognize kompjuter, interesantan and kalendar…but sometimes words that sound similar actually have meanings different than what you would expect, hence the term “false friends”.

  • There’s the great one that a direct translation “I am full” in French – “Je suis pleine” – means I am pregnant, and I believe embarazada in Spanish means not “embarrassed” but also…pregnant. So much for euphemisms.
  • There are a couple of funny false friends between various Slavic languages – most often, similar words do in fact mean the same thing, but “hour” in some means “year” in others; this had the result of me wishing a bunch of individual Slovaks a Happy New Hour on January 1. Words for chicken and matches in some mean obscene things in others. I get a childish kick out of learning the “bad” words, but then I get worried about confusing them with similar-sounding normal words.
  • Within Bosnia, the words for goat, hair and leather/skin are very similar (koza, kosa, koze), which, when looked at as a group like this, is logical. But watch out if you want to tell someone you noticed that their new goat looks very nice. On a related note, the word for blond is “plava”, which also means blue. Accordingly, a surprising number of people can be said to have blue hair.
  • Finally, the language dork in me likes false friends between Slavic languages and English that have a logical if not immediately apparent common root. For example:

    Trafika in Bosnian is a small shop that sells newspapers and cigarettes, not a collective word to describe lots of cars – but English does have “trafficking” as something like “trade” or “selling”.

    Fabrik means factory, which on the surface seems like a false friend – but in English you can fabricate a story, and you make clothes out of fabric.

    Skocati, in at least a couple of Slavic languages, means “jump.” I don’t think there is any real word in English like this – but how about hop skotch?

Any funny false friends you’ve come across?