Friday 2 September 2016

Six False Friends

Of course, languages borrow and steal from each other. That's normal. I've come to realise, though, that a language often adopts a word from another language only for it to mean something slightly or completely different.

Here are a few false friends in French, English and German.


An English word meaning something useful. German speakers, however, use the word to mean mobile phone. Go figure.


Another English word, used in French to mean a kind of a pocket knife used to cut cardboard and other thick materials. Otherwise known in England as a carpet knife.


In French, a costume usually designates a two- or a three-piece suit. In English though, a costume is what people wear to dress up, such as a clown, a witch, Superman etc.


This French word is used occasionally to mean a sheath or a slim-fitting case. In German, it is often used to designate any kind of small case: a pencil case, a wallet, a credit card holder. You name it, if its purpose is to carry any kind of small stuff then it's an Etui.


A French word meaning carrousel, German speakers use it to designate an arena, in particular, a circus arena.


When I hear that someone is being mobbed in English, I imagine somebody running away from a group of people who are ganging up on him. In German, though, mobbing is bullying.

And you, what are your most memorable linguistic false friends?

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