From Bae to Zee: 38 False Friends

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When the word bae seemingly came out of nowhere in the summer of 2014 to become every millennial’s go-to term of endearment, the internet was quick to seize upon the fact that, coincidentally, bae means “poop” in Danish. 

Bae, it soon turned out, wasn’t so much a term of endearment as an example of what linguists refer to as a “false friend”—a word that looks (but doesn’t necessarily sound) similar in two different languages, but differs entirely in its meaning. Chances are if you’ve ever learned a language you’ll have stumbled across a few false friends yourself, because there are a lot more besides bae to contend with …

1. Tuna is the Spanish name for the prickly pear cactus.

2. Fart means speed or rapid movement in several Scandinavian languages—which makes the Norwegian word for a sea crossing an overfart, and the Swedish word for a speed bump a farthinder.

3. Air is the Malay word for water.

4. Kiss means urine in Swedish …

5. … while the Manx word for urine is moon.

6. Farmer means farmer in Hungarian—but it’s also a Hungarian word for a pair of jeans, which are known in full as farmernadrág, or farmer trousers.

7. Angina is the German name for tonsillitis.

8. Derived from the same root as fatuous, fat means conceited or boastful in French.

9. Bad means bath in Norwegian.

10. Cat is the Malay word for paint.

11. Home means mold or mildew in Finnish.

12. Roof means robbery or banditry in Dutch. A roofdier—literally, an animal robber—is a predatory animal.

13. A bicycle is a rower in Polish.

14. Pop means octopus in Catalan.

15. As a noun, gift means poison in Danish. As an adjective, it means married.

16. Bang means frightened in German, is an Irish word for a single swimming stroke, and is the Javanese word for anything red-colored. Whereas … means network in Spanish.

18. Pea is the Estonian word for head—while head means good.

19. Zee means sea in Dutch (which is where the “zea” in New Zealand comes from).

20. Mad means lucky in Welsh.

22. A shopping cart is called a chariot in French.

22. Bum is the Albanian equivalent of boom.

23. The Romanian name for the poplar tree is plop.

24. A mom is a mask in Dutch.

25. Dress is the Norwegian word for a man’s suit or tuxedo.

26. A pig is a bird’s beak or a similar point or spike in Welsh.

27. Butt means blunt in Norwegian.

28. Ass is the Latvian word for an axle.

29. Thumb is the Albanian word for a thorn or prickle, a small nail or tack, the clapper inside a bell, or the point of an arrow.

20. Derived from similar roots to our word brave, BRA means good or well in Swedish and Norwegian.

31. Fast means almost in German.

32. One is the Hawaiian word for sand.

33. Sex is the Icelandic word for six …

34. … and the Hungarian word for six is hat.

35. Once means 11 in Spanish.

36. Cute means skin in Italian—but is also the Romanian word for a whetstone.

37. No means certainly in Czech (and is a shortened form of ano, the Czech word for yes).

38. The Fijian word for no is sega.