Any unrelated "words" have meaning in three or more languages?

In this thread, what I mean by “word” is specifically “a given set of Roman alphabet letters, not including diacritics on vowels”. Transliterations from non-Roman-alphabet languages (e.g. Arabic, Russian) are excluded.

So anyway, the kind of words I’m thinking of are spelled the same in more than one language, but have different, unrelated meanings (IOW, are not cognates). Here are three examples that work across two languages:

English dove “a kind of bird”
Italian dove “where”

English chat “a casual converstion”
French chat “cat”

English also “and, furthermore”
German also “therefore”

I am wondering if there are similar examples that work across three or more Roman-alphabet languages. Vowel diacritics can be ignored, but not consonantal diacritics (i.e. English canon is not a match for Spanish cañon, but English resume “begin again” matches French resumé “summary”)

What word would be the champ? Can anyone come up with matches among four, five, or more languages?

To be clear: words that are clearly recent international borrowings do not count. Words like taxi and fax don’t qualify. Note also that for this reason, English resumé “C.V.” would not match French resumé.

Lastly, when I say “Roman-alphabet language”, I mean more than European languages. If you know of matches in Swahili, Turkish, Malagasy, Hawaiian, etc., feel free to include them.

The first one that comes to mind is leer:

In English, a lascivious gaze.
In Spanish, to read.
In German, empty.

(Pronounced differently in each case.)

English ass “donkey”
German Ass “ace”

Ah, and in German, Kind means “child”.

In German, gift means “poison.” So beware of Germans bearing gifts. :slight_smile:

Chuck, fishcheer: you’ve found some doublets. Those are pretty abundant. Can you come up with any triplets? Do ass, kind, and **gift ** mean anything in any additional languages (maybe Scandinavian languages?)?

Quoting from my OP for clarification.

Biffy’s example is perfect. Thanks, all!

Not that I have any to add, but words like that are called “false cognates” or “false friends”.

Actually, here’s one…“trots”. In English, it’s a way a horse can run. Doesn’t it mean something like “stubborn” in Swedish and “proud” in Dutch?

Faux amis, or “false friends”, also includes words that are spelled merely approximately the same. While all examples in this thread would certainly be faux amis, not all *faux amis * would qualify under the conditions of the OP.

Seems like the answer ought to be some ulta-short word. Taking a guess and using Babelfish, I get:

English: to perform
Portugese: of
Italian: I give
(and BF translates “do” in French as “C”, presumably from the musical scale. Does that count?)

English: father
Spanish: it gives
Portugese: of
German: there

Da an English word? Wish I had my Scrabble dictionary.

As for translating “do” in French as “C” – that doesn’t quite pass.

idiot in French
with in Spanish and Italian
to trick or a criminal in English

concealed in French
does in German
an expression of disapproval in English

an ammunition container, periodical or alloy wheel in English
can in Dutch (??? I’m sure can is kan in Dutch but Systrans gives both)
like in German

The German and English meanings are the only ones I’m confident in though. Systrans, schoolboy language classes and drunken nights with tourists are responsible for the rest. :smiley:

Do German/Englisch/Dutch cognates count or only the false cognates? I can think of loads more if all cognates are allowed. I can also think of a few in Russian although some of my transliterations are often not the received ones. All I know is how they are pronounced and spelt in Russian. Why have the proscription against non-Roman alphabets? J’s pronunciation varies as much between French, German and English as P’s does between Russian and English. They might as well be different scripts for all the help they sometimes are when pronouncing foreign words with Roman script.

False cognates only.

The pronunciation variations don’t concern me. The proscription against non-Roman alphabets is to avoid competing standards of transliteration.

And in Swedish it means “cheek” - the one on your face, at least.

As far as I can tell, according to the rules set forth in the OP, that qualifies.

Some of my favorite doubles:


  • English, a present
  • German, poison


  • Latin, a table
  • Spanish, stupid (adj) – brings new meaning to the name of the genius society…

It have a four-way, I believe… but most of the credit should go to **Biffy the Elephant Shrew **


In English, a lascivious gaze.
In Spanish, to read.
In German, empty.
In Dutch, leather.

‘it’ should be ‘I’

I think ‘ass’ in German means ‘ate’

The German word for ‘ace’ is ‘as’.

mag in Dutch means ‘may’ I believe, not ‘can’

I’m sorry about all the little posts. I’m not trying to pad my post count, I just noticed all this stuff one item at a time.

I believe in German, Mensa means cafeteria.