April 25, 2016

Four “false friends” you never want to mix up in translation.

by brenton

Providing translation services is a delicate affair because so many languages come from the same root but they have developed differently along the way.  In the beginning, when one language started to split into two, a word may have meant the same thing in both the resultant languages.  However, after the passage of many years, the meanings of words change subtly.  So, you can end up with words that sound the same in two languages but have entirely different meanings.  These are called false friends.  Here are a few examples:

  • The English word “embarrassed” sounds a lot like the Spanish word “embarazada.”  However, the Spanish word actually means pregnant and not embarrassed.
  • The Latin word “Gymnasium” meant both, a place to exercise and a place to study.  In English, the word now only means a place to exercise.  In German, however, it only means a place to study.  So the English word and the German word are false friends.
  • In British English, “to table” something is to bring it to the table, to open it up for discussion.  In American English, “to table” something is to shelve it, put it away and stop discussing it.
  • In English, the word “preservative” usually refers to something added to food to maintain its freshness.  The French “préservatif,” the German “Präservativ,” the Romanian “prezervativ,” the Italian “preservativo,” the Polish “prezerwatywa” and the Russian “презерватив prezervativ” all refer to a condom.

So it’s obviously very important to stay away from false friends in translation services.  Just because a word sounds similar to another word doesn’t mean that it means the same thing.  Things can get particularly ugly if you’re using a word that has a derogatory meaning in another language.  Or, the translation can just end up sounding hilarious, which is probably not your aim.  After all, you don’t want all your customers to be thinking you’re adding condoms to your jam!

Contact us for translation services that take the similarities and differences between languages into account.

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