Funny language mistakes; or, let me tell you about my Russian quiz.

I’m in Russian 101 this semester, and in general I find it awfully easy. This is because I speak Bulgarian, which is pretty closely related to Russian. (Although it doesn’t have cases, so I find the Russian cases just as baffling as everyone else in my class.) Imagine someone who speaks Portuguese taking a Spanish class. So, I must admit, my approach to studying is somewhat lackadaisical. Also, it’s an undergrad class and I’m a grad student, so I don’t actually get credit for it.

This is why I hadn’t bothered to study for a vocabulary quiz on Tuesday*. One of the words on the quiz, which I was expected to translate from English into Russian, was “fruit”. Well, I didn’t know the word for fruit. So I did what anyone would do in this situation - I wrote the Bulgarian word for fruit, which is плод (plod). Russian-speakers will know where this is going.

My professor gave me back my quiz yesterday and laughed as he congratulated me on my mad skillz in making shit up, and explained that while плод is the OLD Russian word for fruit, it has a different meaning in modern Russian.


Well, at least I learned this before I tried to tell a Russian person I like having fetuses for breakfast.

Share your own ridiculous language-learning errors!

*I still got an 85. I’m okay with this.

I ran a restaurant for several years, and during that time almost all of my cooks were Mexican. With the ones who didn’t speak English very well, a combination of their poor English and my poor Spanish usually got us by ok in the communication department.

One night I was closing with one of these cooks, and at one point went in the back room to wash my hands, only to find the dispenser was out of hand soap. So I went to get more from the storeroom, and couldn’t find any. Knowing the cooks liked to hide stashes of items like this (to keep them away from the college kids who worked there), I attempted to ask the cook if we were out of soap.

He gave me a really funny look. I beckoned for him to follow me to the storeroom, and led him around saying “see? no more soap!” By this point he clearly thought I had lost my mind, and I couldn’t tell what his problem was. I finally pantomimed washing my hands, and he started laughing… and reminded me that the Spanish word for soap is “jabon” - not “sopa”, which means soup. Something we did not carry, being a pizza place.

'Course, he then made a point of telling all the other cooks… took me a long time to live that one down. :stuck_out_tongue:

Then there was the time I bounced into my Japanese class one fine Saturday morning with a cheery sayonara… which means ‘goodbye’ instead of ‘good morning’. :slight_smile:

Could have been worse - you could have confused jabon and jamón(ham). Which would have made for some very funny-tasting Hawaiian pizzas!

An English-speaking friend was very keen on practicing his French skills. When talking to my stepson, he told him that his dog had puppies: “deux chiots et une chiotte” Two male puppies – and what he thought was the female form of the word, but really means “crapper”

By the way, I googled the word and, apparently, he wasn’t the only francophone ever to make that mistake.

I fixed it before I handed the paper in, thankfully, but in an essay on the Indonesian political system, I referred to the Constitution throughout as the Udang-Udang Dasar, instead of the Undang-Undang Dasar. Undang-Undang Dasar is translated more or less as basic or underlying principles. Udang-Udang Dasar, on the other hand, would be the underlying prawns. Not quite as impressive a basis for a system of Government.

The most common novice mistake in Bahasa Indonesia is apparently mistaking kepala (head) with kelapa (coconut.) I didn’t mix them up, but plenty of my classmates did. Hey, at least they’re more or less the same shape. However, the Kepala Sekolah would be the head of the school, the Principal, and it was always funny to hear people refer to him as the coconut of the school.

Can I share my dad’s stories, instead? He’s got quite a collection from when he lived in Israel. Come to think of it, most of the funny language anecdotes I know involved Hebrew.

Lama lo?

ETA: shit, I forgot I got in trouble once for not posting in English. “Lama lo” = “why not” in Hebrew. Except I am too lazy to pick out the Hebrew letters.

Embarasada does not mean embarrassed. It means pregnant. I knew a guy who may never stop getting jokes about that.

When he first came to Panama, a friend of mine told a busload of people he had to get off because he had an erection.

When your stop is coming up, it is customary to shout “Parada!” (bus stop, literally “stand”). Instead, he yelled out, “Tengo parada!” (“I have a standing one,” colloquially, an erection).

He said he was surprised at how quickly people moved out of his way to let him off.:smiley: