13 European Words That Don’t Mean What You Think

European Day of Languages 2019

Every year, the European Day of Languages is celebrated on the 26th of September to celebrate the linguistic and cultural diversity in the region. The European region has over 200 native languages of which 24 are official languages. While there are many differences in the culture, traditions and people of the region, the languages overlap at some word or another. It’s common practice to come across words that sound and mean the same in different languages. Words such as Actor, Animal, Auto, etc. sound similar/same and have the same definition in Spanish and English both. However, there are many words, known as False Friends, which sound similar but have completely different meanings.


The Dutch meaning of ‘bank’ is cough and we all know what it means in English (Hint: It’s the place that keeps your money safe!)


Be very careful when you ask somebody to sit on a chair in French! The word ‘chair’ means ‘flesh’ in French and not the wooden object you sit on. Do you see why you might need to be careful about it?


This is another tricky one. In English, we call a type of rodent ‘rat’. In German, however, when somebody offers you a piece of ‘rat’ it isn’t what you think it might be! The German word for ‘advice’ is ‘rat’! Use this word carefully.


Did you imagine a wooden shed with hay after reading the word barn? Ask your Swedish friend what they imagine. Did they say ‘children’? That’s probably because the Swedish word ‘barn’ means children!


When Italians asks for some ‘burro’ with their toast, they’re asking for ‘butter’. Your Spanish friend might have a good laugh at that though since ‘burro’ in Spanish means ‘donkey’. The Spanish word for butter is ‘mantequilla’, pretty helpful if you remember.


Everybody loves gifts! Especially on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, etc. Be cautious of using the word gift when giving a present to Norwegians because it translates to ‘poison’ in Norwegian. The word ‘gift’ means ‘poison’ in German as well!


A helmet is extremely important for the safety of a person in many situations. But when you ask someone in Finland to wear a ‘helmet’, they’d probably wear a pearl necklace and it’s probably because the literal translation of the word ‘helmet’ is ‘pearls’ in Finnish.


There are many ways to enjoy tuna; in a sandwich, a salad or even a casserole. Be vary when you ask for some ‘tuna’ with your salad in Spain though! The Spanish translation of ‘tuna’ is ‘cactus’. Try not to imagine cactus in your sandwich, doesn’t sound appetizing.


The word ‘rana’ translates to ‘frog’ in Spanish while the Romanian and Bulgarian meaning of it is a ‘wound’. Pretty comical, isn’t it?


The Italian dessert Panna Cotta is a favorite among many, and the word ‘panna’ means ‘cream’ in Italian. In Polish, however, the word ‘panna’ means ‘a single woman’. If used incorrectly, it could cause quite a bit of trouble!


The word ‘plot’ holds a few different meaning in the English language; the main events/concept of a play, movie etc. or a large piece of land meant for the construction of a house or building. In Czech, the word ‘plot’ means fence. While you can jump a ‘plot’ in Czech, you can’t really do the same in English.


Making a list is part of everyday life, literally! Be it your grocery list or ‘to-do’ list, a big part of being an adult is making lists. In Slovak if you ever had to make a ‘list’, it would have been better for you to transform into a tree because the word ‘list’ means ‘leaf’ in Slovak. Imagine if you could actually make them!


It’s highly unlikely that somebody doesn’t enjoy a good bowl of pasta, especially because it comes in so many shapes and sizes! The Portuguese translation of ‘pasta’ is ‘folder’. Imagining a bowl full of folders? Quite an appetite killer.

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By Saania

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