10 English Words With Unfortunate Meanings in Other Languages
A beginner’s guide to which words to watch out for where.
There’s a name for the phenomenon of everyday English words that sound like less-innocent words in other languages: “false friends.”
When I first started teaching English in a small academy just outside Barcelona, I couldn’t figure out why the kids would start whispering and giggling every time I said something was cool or when we talked about what pets they had at home.
As it turns out, in Catalan, the word cool sounds almost identical to cul, or rear end, and pet is pronounced and spelled identically to the Catalan word for passed gas. Naturally, the kids could hardly contain themselves when I talked about cool pets.
Ironically enough, I’m guilty of the same reaction. In Catalan, the word fart means sick, as in sick of something—and even though I know I should be sympathetic toward someone who is clearly talking to me about their frustration, I almost can’t help but smile when I hear someone say it.
So before your next trip, while you’re going over key vocabulary like “hello,” “good-bye,” “please,” and “thank-you,” take a few more minutes to familiarize yourself with English words you should avoid abroad. If nothing else, you’ll have a clue as to why that classroom full of small children (or the cute guy at the coffee shop) is giggling.
Read on for a beginners’ guide to which words to watch out for where.
Kiss and kiss her in Sweden
These words sound a little too much like the Swedish word kissa—especially considering the fact that kissa has nothing to do with shows of affection. It means pee.
Lull in Holland
Lull is spelled and pronounced similarly to the word lul in Dutch. When you find out it means male genitals, you suddenly understand why you don’t want to talk about a “lull in business” in your presentation.
Puff in Germany
In German, puff, far from being a fluffy pastry or a cloud of smoke, is a slang term for a brothel.
Payday in Portugal
Even if you’re excited because it’s the end of the month and your bank account is about to be replenished (however temporarily), you might think twice about shouting praises to payday from the rooftops in Portugal. It sounds a little too much like peidei, which is Portuguese for “I passed gas.”