Jul 6, 2009

False friends

Whatever learner of a foreign language hasn't been faced with a false friend or three? You know them: Words like poisson, gift or embarazada. I, myself, have made some... unusual remarks on occasion, owing to this (Did you know that Norwegian phrase "grei kar", pronounced almost exactly like the English phrase "grey car", means "nice guy"? Once upon a time, I made tha mistake in reverse).

While most of them may be chalked up to coincidence, some have a more interesting history, such as the Norwegian word "gift". This word, contrary to what you might expect, does not mean "present". Instead, it has two meanings - "married" and "poison". Once upon a time, however, it apparently did mean "present" - but then it came into use as a euphemism for poison, and the original meaning was lost. Its use for "married", I can not account for, despite the claim of certain less-than-grave accounts that it came from the meaning of "poison".

The Norwegian word for divorced, "skilt", also means "signpost". This, however, is derived from the verb "å skille", meaning "to separate", while in the meaning of "signpost" it is apparently derived from the Norse word for "shield".

"Skill", meaning "separate", is another false friend, with the English "skill". And the English "poison" is a false friend with the French "poisson", meaning "fish"

Some more false friends:
En. "stock" and No. "stokk" - n, stick
En. "mat" and No. "mat" - n, food
En. "fan" and Sw. "fan" - n, Satan
Ger. "öl" - n, oil and Sw. "öl" - n, beer
Sw. "rolig", adj. fun and No. "rolig", adj, calm
Sw. "artig", adj. polite and No. "artig, adj, amusing
En. "recommended" and No. "rekommandert" - v, returned to sender
En. "fag" and No. "fag" - n, subject of study or specialization

And many, many more.

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