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

If it does, I would suspicious that it was derived from the Latin, so it wouldn’t count.

Same with the Dutch/Swedish example from Captain Amazing. Not derived from Latin, but actually the same word root that means something slightly different in two closely related languages.

As for “Da” meaning “Father”, I thought that was an Irish coloquialism, not an English one. But I could be wrong on that…

I guess my stipulations are a little unclear … German mensa is OK even if it derived from Latin. You still have the Spanish/German doublet.

BTW, mensa does mean “cafeteria” in German (so says Google). It also seems like cafeteria is perfectly good German.

In Norwegian, “do” means “toilet”, and “gift” means both “poison” and “marriage”.

Yes* Da* is “Irish”, but it is also used in Britain as well, it all depends on where in the UK you are (not everyone in Britain talks like the Queen)

In that case, you could have instances like *torch * meaning *flashlight * in “English” and lighted stick in “American”. But it’s your thread, so have at it. :slight_smile:


In English it can mean “happy” or “homosexual”.

In German, it can mean “go”(as in, "Go to school).

In Chinese, it means “give”.

In English, “sure” can be used to confirm something, such as:

You: “Is this a good car?”

Me: “Sure!”

In Chinese, it can mean the same sometimes(“sure” means “to be” and can sometimes be used to confirm something state of being).

Both British and American usage are considered the same language, though.

Now if “torch” meant "flashlight in Danish or something, then we’d be on to something.

Mahaloth, you’re thinking of homophones, or sound-alikes.

I’m thinking strictly of look-alikes – words with the same orthographic form regardless of pronunciation. That eliminates Chinese words right off the bat.

I can’t help here, because I know only English and some Spanish, but…

Given a procedure that takes a sequence of letters and interprets it as a word in all roman-alphabet languages, one at a time, then translates it into English, could you write a program that automatically finds these triplets? Would it feel like cheating?

For example, the program is searching through a list of Spanish words. It gets to “comprar” then tries to translate it from all languages…

Spanish: to buy
French: n/a
German: n/a
Dutch: n/a
1 match

So it would give up on that and move on to another word, until it found one with 3 matches. When all Spanish words had been tested, it would move on to all the other languages, one at a time, until it had discovered all possible triplets.

I don’t think such a program is inconceivable, but is it possible to build one that utilizes Babelfish or some other pre-existing translator?

*AFAIK, comprar doesn’t mean anything in any language besides Spanish. If I’m wrong, pretend I said something else. You get the idea…

As has been said, you are thinking of words that sound the same. The German command “go” is written ‘geh,’ from the infinitive ‘gehen.’ e.g. “Geh zur Schule” (go to school), or alternatively formal “Gehen Sie zur Schule.”

how about hanyu pinyin? :board (a train/cab/etc)

A little off the track, but I just remembered the story of the correspondence between two musicians–I forget who–one of whom wrote a letter with the German epigraph “O singe fort!” (“O sing forth!” quoted from Das Rheingold.) The recipient, however, thought it was French, and was startled to receive a letter that began “O mighty ape!”

Especially gifts like train rides to special camps or free bars of soap for your “shower.”


People are slower to remember the free blankets various native peoples have been offered over the years. Much the same result but with a more agonising process.

I don’t think biological warfare by smallpox-infected blankets was widespread. There is evidence that a small number of Americans considered the tactic, and probably used it. But it was probably not used against “various native peoples over the years”. The smallpox epidemics that ravaged indigenous populations in North America were probably caused by casual, non-malicious contact rather than deliberate infection. I’m sure there’s a thread on it somewhere.

If the one about do is correct with four false cognates, there is a fifth: do means “I give” in Latin. Also, practically any one-syllable word can be expected to work in the Asian languages provided it agrees with their phonotactic constraints. I’m not sure if this is right, but du (which probably sounds like do in English) means ‘city’, ‘dog’, ‘plant’, etc., with various tones.

Here’s a good SDMB oriented selection - pie

Eng. : bring pie
French : magpie
Spanish : foot

In the languages I’m familiar with it’s pretty easy to come up with short words spanning three languages :

some others -
once Sp. : 11 … Fr. : ounce
fin Sp. : goal … Fr. : fine / goal etc
pan Sp. : bread … Fr. : peacock
come Sp. : eats … It. : like / how
It’s pretty tough finding any longer words though, or ones that show up in more languages.

Polish (and several other Slavic languages): to/for (preposition)

Pan is also good Polish … it’s a masculine form of “you”.

It presumably means “all” in Greek too - that would make 5 languages.

Not a Roman alpabet, though.