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A game for the polyglots

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1. Posted by sapphyre (Respected Member 418 posts) 7y

So sometimes we encounter words or phrases in a language that spelling-wise or phonetics-wise sound like another but have entirely different meanings. What are the examples you know of?

For example,
"strand" in English is a quantifier, as in a strand of hair, but "(der) Strand" in German means a beach.

My fave is "ljubiti" which is Slovenian for love (verb), but sounds exactly the same as in mandarin Chinese for running nose

2. Posted by Hien (Moderator 3906 posts) 7y

Quoting sapphyre

My fave is "ljubiti" which is Slovenian for love (verb), but sounds exactly the same as in mandarin Chinese for running nose

3. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5595 posts) 7y

Well, there is a joke in Dutch and of course you have to know both Dutch and English for it.

"What is the similarity to a dumb blonde and the US?"

Answer: "Je naait het steeds" which is exactly pronounced like "United States".

Je naait het steeds is not really a nice phrase, so I won't translate it

[ Edit: Edited on 09-Jul-2009, at 13:12 by Utrecht ]

4. Posted by marlis (Travel Guru 1167 posts) 7y

you like to eat Sushi ??

in Papiamento Sushi means Garbage,Litter !!!

5. Posted by Herr Bert (Moderator 1384 posts) 7y

We did this game in the metro, with people from work. One time I heared Swedish colleagues saying knul (at least it sounds like that), and I explained them that in dutch that's a word for a cute small boy. But in Swedish it's not... It means making love.

p.s. Strand in Dutch is also beach.

6. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 7y

My favorite word with double meaning is "schmuck".

In American English (spelled shmuck phonetically) it is an insult, roughly meaning "idiot". In German it means "jewellery". The funny thing is, the American English word is derived from the German word via Jiddish. In German slang "family jewels" are an euphemism for a man's genitals. Thus the Jiddish word "schmuck" for a man's penis. From there it entered American English as a general cussword, with the meaning changing to the more general "idiot".

There is a joke about it in Israel:

A Jew moves to Israel. There he buys a camel and rides it to work every day. One day he comes and somebody stole the camel. When asked by the police to describe the camel he says "All I know is that it was a male camel with a very large penis. The people always said, 'Look at that schmuck on the camel!' "

And a German word that very much disturbed an American friend of mine:

die

In German it is simply the article "the".

Another funny example is "mist". In German it means "animal dung mixed with straw", so it was very funny for me to find a deodorant in Ireland that was called "Ocean Mist".

Further examples: "on" in Russian means "he". Phonetically "ana" means "I" in Arabic and "her" in Russian (it is spelled "ona" in Russia, but the o is pronounced as a). The last one especially drives me nuts when I try to keep Russian and Arabic seperate in my head!

[ Edit: Edited on 10-Jul-2009, at 05:45 by t_maia ]

7. Posted by Q' (Travel Guru 1987 posts) 7y

Quoting t_maia

Another funny example is "mist". In German it means "animal dung mixed with straw", so it was very funny for me to find a deodorant in Ireland that was called "Ocean Mist".

Oh, that's GOOD ! I think I have that deodorant. And also a bath gel with that fragrance. My wife still seems to like it, though.

[ Edit: Edited on 10-Jul-2009, at 06:07 by Q' ]

8. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 7y

In French, a seal is called a "phoque." Just guess how that's pronounced!

9. Posted by Budai (Respected Member 506 posts) 7y

Nice topic! My favourite is still Melaka - a popular tourist attraction in Malaysia but a not so nice word in Greek! ;)

10. Posted by steff (Travel Guru 1160 posts) 7y

When I lived in Melbourne I had a lot of Swedish friends and one of them started to laugh out loud when I told him about my Fit-ball class at the gym. Much later I found out why he has laughing: fit(ta) is the swedish word for vagina and I bet he still has this great fantasy about my gym class .