Imagine your joy when, while learning a new language, you stumble across a word that is the same as your native language. You know the meaning of this word! Or do you? Unfortunately, not all words that look/sound the same necessarily mean the same thing.
Why then, do they occur?
Called "false friends" in English, these words occur because while they might have had a common origin a long time ago, their meanings changed over time to become something completely different.
Some common “false friends” to avoid embarrassing moments:
Gift: Oh, how we love this word! And what it means! In German, however, this word could be quite dangerous, because it means ‘poison’! Imagine saying, “I want a gift for my birthday”, and receiving poison! Scary, right?
Pain: While this looks exactly like the English word ‘pain’, it means ‘bread’ in French.
Brat: Meaning ‘brother’ in Russian, it is a very fitting example on this list. So the next time you call your brother a brat, just pretend you are learning Russian!
LOL: As any teenager will tell you, this means ‘Laugh Out Loud’ in internet slang. In Dutch, however, it means ‘fun’. Appropriate, no?
Rest: Use it in French and it means ‘to stay’, use it in English and it means ‘to rest’. There might only be a small difference, but it could cause confusion!
Douche: Say it in French, and the meaning changes from an insult to ‘shower’.
Say: While it means ‘to speak’ in English, it means ‘I know’ in Spanish.
Nova: When cars named ‘Opal Nova’ were launched in Spain, there were hardly any buyers. ‘No va’ means ‘It doesn’t go’ in Spanish. (It means ‘a star that suddenly becomes thousands of times brighter and then gradually fades to its original intensity’ in English.)
Scum/Skum: Although the words don’t sound exactly the way you would expect, not many English-speaking natives would want a shower gel called ‘Bad Skum’. However, the words actually translate to ‘bath foam’! So, “bad” means “bath” and “skum” is “foam” in Swedish.
Do you know of any such “false friends”? Let me know what they are in the comments section below.