Foreign Words That Look Like English, But Don’t Mean The Same

There are lots of times that words look similar in different language, but by no means does it mean the same!
Here are some examples of German words that look like most people who speak English would understand, but you would be wrong - very wrong!
{See below in spoiler box for what they REALLY mean in German.)

Gurtel – not only for women, men and kids like them as well.

Hell – most of you really like this in your room.

Dick – nope, not what you think and few want this, no matter if you are male or female, Gay or Straight.

Bar – yes, it can mean where you go to get a drink, but also has to do with money.

Bad – no, it is a good thing, really.

Fart – usually quite pleasant and does not stink.

Mensa – nothing to do with geniuses.

Kind – trust me, not all are kind.

Puff – not the name of a magic dragon or what you do with a cigarette.

Schmuck – although a Yiddish word for idiot or fool, this can be quite pricy.

Gift – never, ever give this to a German or you will be imprisoned.

Gurtel – means “belt”, as what you wear to hold your pants up.
Hell – means “bright” or very well lit.
Dick – this is the word for “fat” or “overweight”.
Bar – this is the word for “cash” instead of a check or credit card.
Bad – this means “bathroom”
Fart – from the German verb fahren – means to “travel” or take a trip.
Mensa – this is the cafeteria at a university where everyone has lunch.
Kind – the word for “child” – hence “Kindergarten” is children’s garden.
Puff – the word for whorehouse or bordello.
Schmuck – this means “jewelry”.
Gift – means “poison”, which is why Germans love having their pictures taken in front of “Gift Shops” for the amusement of friends back home.

Feel free to add to the list, in German or other languages, if you know of any words that look similar to English, but have totally different meanings.

When I was a kid I always liked how stoves were “four” in French.

Not as funny as the above examples, but I always found it neat when I was a kid.

I’m sure there’s lots of other examples, but can’t think of them now.

In high-school German, we sang a silly little song “Heim auf dem Herd” to the tune of “Home on the Range”. “Herd” means “stove”. :slight_smile:

Franch has a lot of these; mostly, English and French have both taken a Lantinate word and gone in different directions with it. Oftentimes, French will take the same root and do… different things to it.

Example: when driving into Quebec from Vermont, there was a sign at the border advising the motorist of the fact that Quebec uses “signalisation metrique”: metric signs. But we wouldn’t use ‘signalisation’ in quite the same way.

There are a lot of these ‘false friends’ between English and French. Here’s one list.

In Spanish, you want to make sure your food has no preservativos in it even if you’re not into health food, since preservativo means condom.

Women who do something embarrassing don’t want to tell everyone how embarazada they are, since embarazada means pregnant.

Many years ago I was working on a job site, pushing wheelbarrow loads of concrete up a ramp. I remarked to a Norwegian colleague that I needed assistance in the form of a puller for the wheelbarrow. He implored me to never say that word around a Norwegian, but he would not tell me what it meant.


These are known as “false friends”:

My Spanish teacher tended to lump these in with false cognates. While a linguistic person probably wouldn’t assume “embarazada” came from the same linguistic root as “embarrassed,” a lot of lay people would.

I don’t know a single Norwegian word, but in German, the verb pullern means to piss. Maybe there is a connection.

Slight nitpick for the OP: it’s Gürtel and Fahrt.

There’s a word in Danish and Swedish which means the last few days of a sale that I don’t want to google at work, but I think it’s something like “kuntspurt”.

Beware of Italian faucets… The one marked “C”? For “Caldo”? That’s the hot!! water!

Are you sure it doesn’t come from the same root? This discussion thread suggests it does, and I can see the connection between being pregnant and being indisposed or hindered which is a short leap away from being embarrassed.
Loving the pic on that Wikipedia page, btw.


And the one labelled “F” doesn’t dispense chocolate frogs, either. :frowning:

In the Netherlands, the hot water one is marked “Warm.”

As every English speaker learning Hebrew knows, who is he, he is she and dog is fish.

Seems I made it ruder than it is. It’s slutspurt.

You forgot “Me is who.” :slight_smile:

Me is who
Who is he
He is she
and Dog* is a fish

  • Although this one really works well for a heavy “Ashkenazi” accent, such as I don’t think I’ve heard in Israel, in seriousness, in, literally, decades

True. However, it also works if you’re the kind of American who pronounces “dog” as dahg.


apescollar - surprisingly lacking in leashed monkeys
mobbing - don’t call the riot squad
store - nothing for sale here

apescollar = to seize by the neck
mobbing = workplace harassment
store = a type of sunblind or awning

Yes. embarazo means both pregnancy and embarrassment. emarazada means pregnant and embarazoso means embarrassing.

Actually just “bath”, as in Bad Heilbrunn (a town named for the mineral spring baths there).

some more in German:

bekommen = to receive (not to become)
(Speise)karte = menu (some of my german/english confused friends ask for the “card” in english-speaking countries)
konsequent = consistent
eventuell = possible
isolieren = to insulate
impregnieren = to waterproof treat (e.g. clothing)
massiv = solid (as in made from solid wood)
sympathisch = likable

Actually in English means something like, ‘‘in fact’’ or ‘‘in reality’’

Actualmente in Spanish means ‘‘nowadays.’’

Spanish has a lot of false friends.

And in French “Actuel” means “real/current time”. Actualité means “news”.