General Question

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Calling all Wordsmiths: What is it called when there is the same or similar word in two different languages with totally different meanings (see details)?

Asked by Espiritus_Corvus (17269points) February 4th, 2016

For example, “eclectic” in English means a variety of things from a diverse range of sources, whereas the same word in Greek, eklektikos, means something of superior quality. There are a lot of the same words in Swedish and Danish, but with totally different meanings as well. These words cause a lot of confusion. There is a word for this, but I can’t remember what it is and don’t know where to go to find it.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

19 Answers

Mimishu1995's avatar

Homonymy? Not sure if it also describe words in different languages.

Stinley's avatar

In French sensible means sensitive. My language teacher called these kind of words “false friends” (faux amis) which I like but am not sure how widespread this is.

janbb's avatar

I don’t know if there is a term for it. Of course, if it has the same meaning, it is a cognate but I don’t know if there is one for words of different meaning. I like @Stinley‘s “faux amis.” Where’s Gail when you need her?

marinelife's avatar

This source calls them word warps (I like faux amis better).

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I like faux ami a lot. The problem is that if I used it in an English context, I would end up having to explain the meaning anyway if I wanted the other person to understand what I was saying so the conversation could move on. Otherwise, faux amis is a very charming phrase to insinuate correctly into a sentence of a language whose only equivalent appears to be the imprecise incognate—which I believe is the word my Swedish teacher used.

According to @marinelife‘s source, the closest English grammarians can come to a definitive word is “homograph” which up to now deals only with words of same spellings and different meanings, but in the same language. I absolutely refuse to voluntarily incorporate the term “word-warp” in my vocabulary.

Faux ami it is. Thanks, @Stinley. Now the only problem will be to tell whether the word is a faux ami, or faux amie. Bloody French and their obsessions.

@penguin: Yes. Me too.

CWOTUS's avatar

Apparently false friends is a common term.

Stinley's avatar

It’s un mot so it would be un faux ami I fairly sure. (Don’t forget if speaking this, you’d pronounce the x as a z sound because of the following a : “foe zami”)

cazzie's avatar

False portmanteau?

DominicY's avatar

“False friends” is the right term; there’s even a Wikipedia article on it. It refers to words that look or sound similar but differ greatly in meaning. The words are usually related, but their meanings “split” over time.

This shouldn’t be confused with “false cognates” however. These are words that are completely unrelated but seem related, like French “feu” and German “Feuer” both meaning fire. Though they seem related, they actually come from unrelated roots. “Feu” comes from Latin “focus” meaning “fireplace” and “Feuer” comes form PIE “pehur” meaning “bonfire”.

Strauss's avatar

A cognate is a word which has a the same linguistic derivation as another. he complicated linguistic history shared by French and English results in many similar words with similar meanings. This also leads to a large number @DominicY above referred to as false friends (faux amis) I’ve also seen these referred to as semi-false cognates,

A false friend or faux amis is a word or phrase in one language which resembles a similar word or phrase in a second language, but the meaning is different. One phrase which comes to mind is the phrase “ancient mariner”, from the Coleridge poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If we were to use the similar French word ancien, as in ancien marin, it would be translated as former sailor; the French for ancient mariner would be vieux marin.

Here is an article with a list of French/English false cognates.

2davidc8's avatar

My 3 all-time favorite “faux amis” are:
Fish in English is poisson in French; √©xito in Spanish does not mean “exit” but it means “success”; and Hugo in Spanish (which in English is Hugh, a given name) means “the stupid one” in one Chinese dialect. Ha, ha.

cazzie's avatar

Gift means married or poison in Norwegian.

Stinley's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Ancien means both old and former. You use it in a different place – un ancien marin means a former mariner but un marin ancien means an old-aged mariner (who is still marinating, I presume!). Un vieux marin is also possible as you say.

Strauss's avatar

@Stinley I forgot to mention that in my post. I’m not a French speaker, but I do consider myself to be an amateur linguist. I’m familiar with several other Romance languages, and know how the English-French relationship has affected the development of both languages.

As a veteran of the U.S. Navy who is approaching my 70’s, would I be referred to as un ancien marin ancien?

JLeslie's avatar

Let’s do a Q full of false friends (I’ve never heard that term before). The common one mentioned for Spanish and English is embarazada and embarrassed. Embarazada means pregnant.

Stinley's avatar

@Yetanotheruser I like that French works like this in this example :-)

Strauss's avatar

@stinley OK, just put me out to marinate with the Crow OP!

Sneki95's avatar

False friends.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar


Welcome to Fluther, @Sneki95!

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther