In My Language That Sounds Like
Bill Lawry: Hail, Richie! Hail the great man! Hail!
No, Bill, that's his name, you dickhead!
In Real Life
there are a few words called "false friends", or "faux amis", that have homophones in other languages that can lead to amusing misunderstandings but in fiction the number and strangeness of these explodes. Words that mean one thing in language A but an obscene, rude or inappropriate thing in language B are technically called "Cacemphatons", which in itself is a sort of cacemphaton. A sort of in-universe Bilingual Bonus
, either a word in the work's language sounds silly in a fictional language or the fictional word sounds silly in the work's language. Overlaps with Bite The Wax Tadpole
. Often (even inevitably) leads to Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?
on the part of the (local) foreigners, who may consider you a Funny Foreigner
just on this basis.
There are also "false cognates", in which two words in different languages have similar forms and meanings, but different roots. For example, the English word "sheriff" and the Arabic "sharif", both being legal officials. The former comes from the Old English scīrgerefa
, meaning "shire-reeve", and the latter comes from the Arabic sharafa
, meaning "noble" or "exalted".
For when this happens between dialects of the same language or very similar languages, see Separated by a Common Language
. For when this is applied to foreign-language songs, see Mondegreen
. For when this causes character names to be changed in translation, see Clean Dub Name
. For when a girly name in one language is a masculine name in another, see Gender-Blender Name
Don't confuse with the other meaning of False Friend
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Anime and Manga
- In Strawberry Marshmallow, there's an English girl named "Ana". It is discovered that in Japanese, "ana" means "hole", a fact which Miu reminds her of a couple of times in the next few episodes.
- Some Spanish speakers who watch Dragon Ball Z tend to giggle when the name "Kakarot" is heard, since the "kaka" part sounds like "caca" which means crap.
- Same problem in Italy, "Kakarot" was changed to "Kaharot".
- This is the reason "Chichi's" name got translated as "Milk" in the mexican dub as "Chichi" means "tit/boob" in most parts of Mexico.
- Chichi also means "milk" or "udder" in Japanese, and is a slang word for "tits" (from a baby word for "breast").
- Oddly Chichi was never renamed in Spain, despite it being a very extended slang for "vagina".
- Saying out loud in France that you're a fan of Kakashi is problematic for similar reasons, since "caca", pronounced the same as "Kaka", also means crap in French ; and "shi" is pronounced the same as "chie", which means "shit" (the verb).
- Since Spanish and Japanese share similar phonologies, this happens a lot with many series:
- Rito Yuuki sounds pretty funny in Spanish, since his name sounds like a faux male form of the Spanish name "Rita", not to mention "Rito" sounds the same like the Spanish suffix -rito used mainly as a diminutive (as in Seńorito (Young master) or even worse: Condorito.)
- Also, Mami Tomoe's name sounds disturbingly funny in many Latin American Spanish dialects, since her name "Mami" sounds the same as the Spanish diminutive for "Mommy", but also sounds the same as a very derogative term for a woman in some Latin American countries, especially in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Panama. Mami's mammies, too.
- Aquarion Evol had two unfortunate examples with two characters: Mikono Suzushiro and the villain Mykage Towano. Mikono's name sounds the same like the Spanish phrase "Mi cono" (My cone), or in more perverse meaning, if you replace the letter N of her name with the Spanish-exclusive letter Ń, sounds like "Mi cońo" (My pussy). Mykage Towano is even worse: his name sounds very similar to "Me cagué (en) tu ano" (I crapped in your anus).
- Chii sounds like the Mexican slang word chis which means Piss.
- China Kousaka from Gundam Build Fighters is a very unfortunate example, as her name sounds the same as both China (The country) and the word "china" (Spanish for Chinese girl). The fact she's Japanese makes her name even more unfortunate.
- Mikoto Misaka sounds very similar as Mi coto me saca. (My residential preserve kicks me out)
- Mikasa Ackerman's name sounds like Mi casa. (My house) This is Played for Laughs in Latin America (and also in English too) when she's paired with Tsukasa Hiiragi, as Tsukasa sounds like su casa (Your house) and mixing both names sounds like the famous Spanish greeting Mi Casa (Mikasa) es Su Casa (Tsukasa). (My house is your house)
- Kouko Kaga is one of the most unfortunate examples of this: Her name sounds sounds the same as (The) coconut is shitting. This is even worse if you use her name in the Japanese order, since it could sound like Caga Coco. (Coconut-shitter)
- In the opening of Kare Kano "Yumei dream" sounds like "You may dream."
- Probably unintentional, but in Shaman King, hao is Lakota for "yes".
- In an episode of One Piece in a completely serious scene Nami yells the name of the character Pierre. In Japanese that's pronounced "pieru" which is Finnish for "fart". (Also, "nami" is Finnish for "yummy".)
- In Bleach, Yammy has a dog. The latest databook reveals it's name to be Kukkapuuro, Finnish for flower porridge (Kukka = flower, puuro = porridge).
- Pani Poni sounds like Finnish for "Pony fucked".
- Simoun has Aeru, whose name means great love in the language of one of the neighboring kingdoms.
- Pokémon: Pokémon Pichu did not make it in the Czech Republic. You can get a lot of crap past the radar, but Country Matters in a kids' show would be too much to take.
- In the prelude to World War Hulk, Hulk stated that Blackbolt would be the most dangerous of earth's defenders. However, his warbound misheard this as "Blagbuld", which to Brood means "She who urinates uncontrollably".
- The Homestuck fanfic Hivefled lampshades this with regards to the names of the quadrants, with John's reaction being "Haha, you said flush" and pointing out that a declaration of ashen feelings would be "I club you".
- Discworld uses this gag a few times.
- The Fifth Elephant largely takes place in an Uberwald town called Bonk (it's pronounced "Beyonk"). The same book mentions that "morpork" (as in Ankh-Morpork, the central city of the series) sounds like "a part of women's underwear" in Überwaldian.
- Unseen Academicals has the dwarf fashion house Shatta. As Glenda observes, "You'd be hostage to the first typo."
- This trope became a running gag in Interesting Times, in which Rincewind's screams of "Arrrgh!" were variously translated into homonymous phrases that mean "I would like to eat your foot" or "Your wife is a big hippo".
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- In the first book, "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle" is a deadly insult in the Vl'hurg language, tantamount to an act of war; fortunately, the Vl'hurgs misjudge the size of Earth and have their space fleet eaten by a small dog when they launch an attack.
- And then there's the fact that "Belgium" is the most vile swear word in the galaxy everywhere except on Earth.
- Don't forget that according to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe every planet seems to have a drink or other food item whose name is pronounced approximately the same as "gin and tonics", no matter what said item ends up actually being. A throwaway line after the random explanation of this fact implies that it may apply to other drinks as well.
- In Diane Duane's Star Trek novel My Enemy My Ally, "Jim" apparently means something hilarious in Romulan, although we're never told exactly what.
- Consulting the Rihannsu dictionary, Jihm means "sworn enemy, nemesis". Given the situation, it's no wonder Ael finds it funny...
- A pun-based Shaggy Dog Story by Isaac Asimov concerns dueling political ad campaigns over a Mars-wide referendum on whether to allow dangerous experiments to be performed on the planet. The anti- side uses a traditional Ear Worm song as its jingle, while the pro- side uses the French National Anthem. The reader is asked to predict which side will win. The pro- side wins in a landslide, since the anthem's title, the Marseillaise, sounds subliminally like "Mars say yea."
- Animorphs has an example in The Secret. The Yeerks are using a lumber company named Dapsen lumber as a front. Ax says that "Dapsen" means something impolite in Yeerkish.
- In Shockball, Cherijo and Duncan (Omniglot by way of telepathy) are looking at baby names. Duncan throws out several Earth names on grounds of them being rude words in various alien languages. Cherijo vetoes an alien suggestion on grounds that the name should have vowels. They finally settle on Marel.
- Duncan has mentioned that one of the reasons he loves Cherijo is because her name doesn't mean anything in any of the — I'm gonna go with — hundreds of languages he speaks. (This is partly because her name is actually an acronym.)
- One book in the X-Wing Series mentions that the Twi'leks sometimes fiddle with the pronunciation of people's full names to avoid insulting the person in question. In particular, Tal'dira calls Wedge Antilles "Wedgan'tilles", which is close to "slayer of stars" in Twi'leki. Apparently pronouncing it the way humans do changes the meaning to something like "one so foul as to induce vomiting in a rancor".
- This is apparently rather common; in the Twi'lek language the meaning of a word or phrase can be radically altered by mispronouncing even a single syllable. It's sometimes done even to a fellow Twi'lek's name, for the opposite reason: twisting the pronunciation into something insulting.
- Gilly of A Song of Ice and Fire is renamed Elí in Spain because it is dangerously close to "gili", the shorthand for asshole.
- In The Name of the Rose, Adso recalls seeing Italian nobles going hunting for truffles (which they called tartuffa). However, when he recounted this to a German friend, he understood it as "der teufel", leading to wide-eyed staring at this monk who accompanies Italians who're looking for the devil with pigs.
- Taken to the logical conclusion in the Star Carrier series, where the similarity of "Turusch", the name of one of the enemy races, to "tush" and "trash" has led to Confederation military personnel using those words to Nickname the Enemy.
- A Norwegian engineer building a railroad in Africa in Jan Guillou's The Bridge Builders always gets a smile or giggle when introducing himself to Burundi. He is eventually told his name Oscar means "big cock" in their language.
Live Action TV
- Jerry Seinfeld dated a former Olympic athlete from Romania, where apparently "the Comedian" was a mythological great lover. At the end she told him, "You may tell jokes, Jerry Seinfeld, but you are no Comedian."
- Used as a joke in an episode of That '70s Show, where Fez's very religious exchange family plays a KISS (I think it was KISS) record backwards to try to find hidden messages. Amongst the backwards gibberish, his exchange parents hear "worship the Devil," while Fez hears "I want to sex your monkey" in his own language (which, of course, we don't know). Laughing about hearing it doesn't help his case.
- Or the episode where Hyde says that Fez should be "distant, zen, aloof" if he wants to attract women. Fez snaps when he hears the last word: apparently, "loof" is an insult in his language.
- An inversion of the Hitchhiker's example is the fact that in Babylon 5 every culture has invented the dish we call Swedish Meatballs, only they call it something different.
- Played to the max with a sketch in A Bit of Fry and Laurie in which every word Laurie's hapless businessman utters is a rude word in Fry's fictional language 'Strom'.
- When Borat hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, he at one point giggled when saying Shakira's name. He then explained that "Shakira" is Kazakh for "vagina". At the end of the show, he tells the audience he will later attempt to "Get into Brittany Murphy's 'shakira'."
- In the Mork and Mindy episode "Mork Meets Robin Williams", Mork tells Mindy that on Ork, "Robin" means... something we never get to hear. But apparently it's disgusting.
- In the Star Trek Universe, the name Frederick means something vulgar in Bolian.
- Though the show never established it, the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Ghost Ship claims that Troi calls William Riker (who is generally addressed as "Will") "Bill" because "bill" is the Betazoid word for "shaving cream" and Riker's scent reminds her of the type her father used. (Given that this is both the show and the character where 'Growing the Beard' came from, this is all kinds of amusing).
- The O'Briens decide not to name their son Sean because it's also the Bajoran word for "swamp."
- When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was first being translated into Russian, some translators asked to have the name "Sisko" be changed to "Tsisko" because the original is too similar to the Russian word for "tit" ("sis'ka"). In the end, though, they kept the original name.
- At one point on Angel, Lorne had created a password for something, and told Fred (who spent five years in Lorne's home dimension, Pylea) that it was the Pylean word for hedgehog. Fred's reaction is pretty much a schoolgirl giggle - to quote Gunn, "I'm guessing that means something very different in English". They never have to use it.
- One of the characters of Heroes is a Japanese geek named Hiro (pronounced almost exactly like the English word "hero").
- If Polla Felicia Pulchra had been born a couple of millenia later, she'd be horrified to know that her name totally sounds like "happy and clean cock" in Spanish. That kind of cock.
- In My Hero when deciding what to name their son, George suggests Pontius, which means "great heart" on Ultron. Janet understandably objects, since on Earth it's associated with Pontius Pilate.
- Done deliberately for the title of The X-Files episode "En Ami" and reflects the conflicting portrayal of the show's Big Bad. In French, it means "as a friend." In English, it sounds like "enemy."
- "Difficile lectu", which included the phrase "lectu mihi mars," a meaningless Latin phrase that sounds just like "Leck mich im Arsch", meaning "Lick me in the ass" in German and equivalent to "Kiss my ass" in English. Mozart really liked the phrase, which is a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen. He made several other undisguised references to it in the names of other pieces.
- Another pun later in the same song is the word ionicu, which when pronounced rapidly in succession, sounds a lot like coglioni, the Italian word for "balls."
- Laura Vanamo - Se Tunne. That's not Japanese, folks; that's Finnish!
- My Dil Goes Hmmmmmm.
- My loony bun is fine, Benny Lava.
- An Arabic love song interpreted in Swedish: "Vinna kinky roooooooligt, hatt-baby." ("Win kinky fun, hat-baby.")
- There is a singer, Ebdo Mihemed, who sings wedding songs in kurdish. The problem is, they often sound to Finns like... well... various things, ranging from offensive to perverted to just plain weird, but always something hilarious, and he will always be lovingly known as "Pensseli-setä" (Uncle Paintbrush) to all Finns, because of a repeating phrase in one of his songs, Niilin Hanhet (Geese of the Nile). His songs can be found on Youtube, with Finnish subtitles. Other songs by him include Lakana (The sheet), Hajusavu (Scented smoke), Mursuvaara (The Danger of Walruses) and the amusing (but incompletely subbed) Olen Gaaaaay! (I am... well, just guess).
- There's a very good reason why Spanish-speaking fans of the Japanese idol group AKB48 prefers to spell the name with the intented spelling of itnote since pronouncing the band's name with each letter separately (As "Ah-Kah-Beh 48") sounds exactly as the Spanish word Acabé, who is the Spanish for both I'm (already) finished (something) or I (already) killed (someone)note . Even worse if you take out the letter "B" and sustract a number and it sounds like the Russian machine gun AK-47note
- A video of an Arabian song My Homeland, is famously known in Russian as "Furry Whores", due to the way it sounds. There are a couple of obscene subs on Youtube... very popular videos.
- In the chorus for Psy's "Champion", he's saying "Ne ga", which means "You are", not "nigga".
- It is one Korean singer, but the name would be also good for a Polish band (Psy — Dogs).
- The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples applies to this one, as a scene in William Shakespeare's Henry V has the French princess Katherine discover, to her amusement, that the English words "foot" and "gown" sound a lot like the French for "fuck" (foutre) and "cunt" (con). (It helps that her teacher mispronounces "gown" as "coun.")
- The whole point of the Tom Stoppard play Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth is that every single word in the fictional language of Dogg is an English word with a completely unrelated meaning.
- Some names in the Touhou series can sound funny for non-Japanese players:
- Fujiwara no Moukou is maybe one the biggest offenders, especially in Spanish, because her name Moukou sounds as the Spanish word Moco (Snot) and that the reason she's nicknamed in Spanish as Fujiwara no Moco.
- Mamizou Futatsuiwa has the same problem as Mami Tomoe, but also another one in Mexican Spanish: Her name sounds similar like the Mexican slang word Mamila. (Roughly translated as arrogant dick) and also Mamito who is a very vulgar slang for Momma's Boy in Mexico.
- Sanae Kochiya's last name sounds like the word Cuchilla (blade or knife) in Spanish.
- Hibari's name sounds like the Spanish name of the Amazonian tribe the Shuar, who are better known in Spanish as Jibaros (Pronounced as Hee-bah-ros) or more known in popular culture as Head-Hunters due to their custom of cutting their enemies' heads and shrink them as trophies.
- In the French version of Pokémon Black and White, Seismitoad is called Crapustule (from crapaud, meaning "toad").
- In Japanese, Jigglypuff is called Purin and Clefairy is called Pippi. In French, "purin" means "manure" and Pippi sounds like "pipi", which means "pee".
- An example of both types: In Simon the Sorcerer 2, a man called Um Bongo tells the protagonist that his name would mean Stupid rabbit's colon.
- In World of Warcraft, The Draenei's capitol city is called The Exodar and they revere these Energy Beings called Naaru. One of the Draenei quotes is "We did not realize, but in Naaru Language, Exodar means Defective Elekk Turd."
- In Mass Effect 2, you'll meet a quarian Admiral of the ship Qwib-Qwib, which renders his name Zaal'Koris vas Qwib-Qwib. Silly sounding, but not so bad. He mentions that he sometimes considers transferring to a ship with a more respectable name, like the Iktomi or the Defrahnz.
- In One Piece Unlimited Cruise 1 and 2, there's a funny bit for Swedish players. When using the Gomu Gomu no Fuusen you have to jump and then press the attack button. When jumping Luffy makes a noise sounding like (h)aahp, when using the aforementioned technique he says fuusen rather quickly. Time these to sounds right and Luffy says aputek, which is really close to the Swedish word apotek which means chemists shop.
- The town of Jachol in Final Fantasy V is basically pronounced the same as the Filipino slang word for masturbation.
- Filipino Neptunia fans will laugh at the name of the new goddess in Victory, Pururut. Because it's also the slang word for "loose bowel movement" (diarrhea). The name has been changed to Plutia for the English release.
- One anti-SOPA Minecraft splash screen reads "SOPA means LOSER in Swedish!"
- And AKTAnote means "to avoid", and PIPA means "loud and squeaky sound". Both in Swedish too.
- In Girl Genius, Zeetha is the Daughter of Chump, a "great warrior". She knows what it means in the local tongue.
- Quite probably subverted. Word of God has confirmed that Chump is Klaus Wulfenbach. In 2010 co-author/artist Phil Foglio released a few hand-drawn bookplates depicting Klaus as Chump (references here); he also told fan/helper "Taffy1" at a show. Current speculation is that Klaus declared himself "a chump" for the way he was shipped to Zeetha's homeland.
- In Schlock Mercenary, the ships in the fleet Petey built himself all have the initials "P.D.", including the unfortunately-named Poupance Duungsmeer, whose name apparently "only sounds dirty in Galstandard West".
- Get Medieval: On Neithe's planet, "Asher" is one of the eight circles of Hell. On Asher's planet, it's a girl's name. He's quite relieved to find out that it's a male name (out of the Bible, no less) on Earth.
- Taken to comedic extremes with Timmy and King Confucius in The Time... Guys episode set in medieval France.
Timmy: Um, I don't really speak your language. [Subtitle: We are elusive terrorists.]
Confucius: Why.. you.. here? [Why you here?]
Timmy: Uh, we don't really have a reason for coming here. [To pillage and kill.]
Confucius: [gasp] No reason? [Kill who?]
Timmy: Exactly! [Everyone!]
Doc: Don't worry, Tim, I'll handle this. Kill the boy and let me live. [Let me reason with your translator.]
- The Other Wiki has a lot of policies made of three-letter combinations that might sound different, weird or outright Squicky in several languages, but a personal favorite was to say that "COI" means "dick" in Romanian (and not even the dick, actually a ball, and so it's used in expressions like "he lost a coi" and... well, you get the picture). Even more funny for The Other Wiki is that its sister projects in other language would not acknowledge or talk about this freely out of some assumed respect for their "foul language big sis".
- Additionally, the image on To Serve Man could roughly translate into "taste similar [to a] dick[us]".
- One episode of The Simpsons had Homer giving a Kentucky mug to an Italian woman, who angrily declares "'Kentucky'?! In Italia, this means 'whore'!" and slaps him.
- It actually doesn't. But that episode is full of errors, to the point that could be intentional or Rule of Funny.
- The Brazilian version of Samurai Jack had to change the main villain's name from "Aku" to "Abu" because the former sounds like their word for anus.
- Similarly, the Dutch version of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode "Mystery of a Thousand Moons" had to have the so-called god of Iego's name, "Drol", changed to "Grol", due to apparent phonetic similarities to their word for "poo".
- X.A.N.A., the antagonist from Code Lyoko, unfortunately has a name that sounds exactly like one of the more vulgar nicknames for female genitalia in Portuguese. This makes things like Episode 43's title ("XANA's Kiss") and its subordinates ("XANA's monsters") sound like things you'd find in the deep recesses of the internet rather than a saturday morning cartoon. To avoid this, the dubs tend to pronounce the name as "Zena".
- In Cantonese, the ubiquitous word dik most often means, roughly, "that which belongs to someone" or as a universal suffix to adjectives and adverbs.
- Combined with the fact that "-son" sounds exactly the same as the Chinese word for "god", it leads to some unfortunate puns for people named "Dickson"note .
- And the English words "poor guy" infamously sounds extremely similar to a common swearing term, and has been used for the purpose of Getting Crap Past the Radar in a million instances, including Legislative Councillors (think senators).
- "Nazi" in Cantonese is pronounced exactly the same as "tax paying" save for a minor pitch change.
- Socrates sounds like "scratching armpits".
- Picasso sounds like "not putting any thought into it".
- "Due" sounds like the Chinese word for "fuck". It does Give a Whole New Meaning to "Due date".
- "Delay no more" sounds like a particular obscene swearing term far surpassing "poor guy". It means "fuck your old mother". Yes, Chinese prefer to be precise.
- In a reverse example, the words for "flower bridge" (花桥) sound like "fuck you" in English.
- Another reverse example, during the Cultural Revolution the nickname of one of the Gang of Four who came to power on the left was "Helicopter Wang", so named because of how quickly he rose to power.
- The French term for Swedish meatballs? Boules suédoises, or "Swedish balls." So in France, you can mention that you like putting Swedish balls in your mouth.
- A lot of names are problematic in different languages. Marika for example corresponds to marica ('fag') in Spanish, while the Japanese name Junko might look really bad on paper to any English speaker without knowledge of Japanese.
- The German words for "thick" are "dick," "dicke," and "dicht."
- This sometimes ends up in an Incredibly Lame Pun when someone can't use the ~ symbol for in "ańo" (year) and asks "Cuantos anos tienes?" (Literally, "How many anuses do you have?"). Something hilariously similar happens in Italian, if you can't pronounce double letters: "anno" (year) becomes "ano" - so asking "Quanti ani hai?" is, once again, asking how many anuses you possess.
- In Portuguese, ano means "year".
- In Latin, which Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are derived from, annus is "year," while anus means exactly what you would think it means. Both are declined identically, and the only difference in pronunciation is the length for which the "n" sound is held.
- In fact, annus and anus also have identical etymology: the latter originally came from anulus, which means "ring" and was used as an euphemism, while the former came from using tree rings for dating.
- In Czech, ano (shortened to no) means "yes". In Polish, ano tak and no tak are also colloquial forms of "yes" (regular word is simply tak). And no, especially in internet communicators, may be interpreted as colloquial "yes" or English "no".
- In Japanese, ano means "that" or "um".
- In fact, Japanese and Spanish (and possibly other Romance languages like French, Italian and others) share similar words, despite how different those languages are to Japanese. Here are some very visible examples:
- Pettanko normally means flat-chested, but in Mexican Spanish, it sounds very similar to the word petacón (male) or petacona (female), which is a Mexican slang for big ass.
- The Japanese slang word manko (Pussy) sounds the same as the Mexican slang word manco which means "someone without an arm".
- "Manko" is also a German word, meaning "flaw" or "defect".
- Japanese car makers also seem to have a knack for coming up with car names which are unacceptable in Spanish: there's the Mitsubishi Pajero (Wanker), the Nissan Moco (Snot) and the Mazda Laputa (Thewhore)!
- Nissan managed to invert this, for many years they sold a model called Tsubame in Mexico - the name is Japanese for swallow (the bird) but sounds like "I climb" in Spanish.
- Many Japanese women who works or worked as a Miko in Japan has endured the fact when they traveled to Latin America that word sounds the same as Mico who is a Spanish synonym for the word monkey. Hilarity Ensues when they try to describe their job there.
- In the same way, Korean and Japanese, being similar languages, have some words which sound similar but differ in meaning:
- The Korean dish Kimchi sounds disturbingly simmilar to kimochii (to feel good, in a sexual way). This is even parodied by a Japanese brand of Kimchi, who even released a song named Kimchi no Kimochii (Feeling Good with Kimchi).
- The Japanese name Saeki sounds similar to saekki, which more or less means "you son of a bitch".
- Korean Oppa (Male big brother) sounds similar to Oppai (Japanese for Big Boobs).
- Old joke: In Estonian, the phrase for "twelve months" is "kaksteist kuud." When pronounced correctly, it sounds like the English phrase "cocks taste good."
- Finnish and Japanese have a great number of "shared" words. Sometimes the word-meanings can be uncannily similar. For example Japanese word "yopparatte", "being drunk", sounds oddly similar to the Finnish "juopporatti", a slightly archaic word for a hopeless drunkard.
- Finnish and Italian have many examples.
- Finnish katso! [ˈkatso] ("look!"), Italian cazzo! [ˈkatːso] ("dick" or "fuck!" as an exclamation).
- Finnish katso merta! [ˈkatso ˈmerdɑ] ("look at the sea!"), Italian ''cazzo! merda!'' ("fuck! shit!")
- Finnish katso minkkiä [ˈkatso ˈmiŋkːić] ("look at the mink"), Italian cazzo minchia [ˈkatːso ˈmiŋkja] ("cock dick")
- Finnish katso sukkia ("look at the socks") sounds like You No Take Candle Italian for a request for fellatio ("succhia" means "suck")
- Apina ("ape" in Finnish, "little bee" in Italian), Peto ("beast" in Finnish, "fart" in Italian), Kuulo ("hearing" in Finnish, sounds like Italian "culo", "ass"), Matto (Finnish "carpet", Italian "crazy") and Paasto ("fasting" in Finnish, while "pasto", ironically, means "meal" in Italian).
- Also, the old joke of the Swede that goes into a cab in Denmark asking to be taken to a fun place (ett roligt ställe), just to be transported to a graveyard (In Swedish "ett roligt ställe" = "Somewhere Fun", but in Danish "ett roligt ställe"= "somewhere calm"). This also plays off stereotypes that Swedes and Danes have of one another (cautious and fun-loving, respectively).
- Swedish and Danish are prone to this, as the two languages are very similar, with some amusing exceptions. For instance, the Swedish verb for "play ball" (bolla) sounds like the Danish verb for "have sex" (bolle) and the Danish word for "leek" (porre) sounds like the Swedish word for "porn" (porr).
- And then there's the fact that "chin" in Japanese means a....different body part than it is in English. Bilinguals tend to chuckle uncontrollably while reading The Three Little Pigs.
- A Syrian singer earned the nickname "Pensselisetä" (brush uncle) in Finland after videos of his wedding singing group were put on YouTube with Finnish subtitles on how the singing sounded like. The "narrative" includes pulling Nile geese up my ass, among other absurd and raunchy twists.
- In Dutch, the word for Cook is spelled Kok. Guess what that sounds like. For added interest, Kok or de Kok (the cook) are perfectly common Dutch last names. The Prime Minister through most of The Nineties was Wim Kok.
- And in the other direction, the Dutch "kut" sounds like English "cut" but means "cunt".
- A sign for a "Kiek in de Kok" museum in the Netherlands has become somewhat well-known thanks to this trope, sometimes in pictures where tourists act out what it sounds like.
- The national currency of Vietnam is the đồng. An endless source of amusement for American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
- Similarly, the national currency of Botswana is the pula, which means "rain" in Tshwana but happens to mean "cock" in Romanian.
- The French word for 'seal' (the animal) is phoque [fɔk], which sounds like fuck. This has led to Quebecois teenagers wearing shirts that read, "Ouate de phoque" (sounds like "What the fuck"), which literally means "seal blubber."
- In Spanish they are called focas, too.
- Conversely, some English words sound odd in French. In Montreal, you can see some panels reading 'Garage Sale'. In French, it's read as 'Dirty Garage'.
- The taxonomic term (via Latin) for seals is "phocids". It's pronounced "fo-sids", but can sound obscene if mispronounced even in English.
- Despite what you might think, the original Latin for seal ("phoca") doesn't have any unfortunate soundalikes. In classical Latin "ph" is simply a strong "p," and in medieval Latin the "c" sound is soft. So you have either "Poh-ka" (classical) or "Foh-sa" (medieval), but not "foh-ka."
- A new word had to be invented ("ordinateur") when computers began being sold in France, because "computer" sounds like "con putain" [kɔ̃ pytɛ̃] ("cunt whore").
- Famously, when releasing their MR2 sports car in France, Toyota had to shorten the name to simply MR. MR2 in French (emme erre deux [ɛm ɛʁ dř]) sounds just like est merdeux [ɛ mɛʁdř] ("is shitty").
- Urban legend has it that the Chevy Nova just would not sell in Mexico until Chevrolet realized that in Spanish, no va is the last thing anyone wants to hear about their car: "it doesn't go." But in fact, it sold just fine. Words sounding like "nova" mean "new" in Romance languages; examples include Spanish nueva and French nouveau. Like nueva, "nova" has the accent on the first syllable; no va has it on the second. In other words, "Nova" is just as likely to be read as "doesn't go" in Spanish as "Therapist" is to be read as "The rapist" in English: not likely unless you're on "Celebrity Jeopardy!" on Saturday Night Live. That said, it is true that people in Spanish-speaking countries did make the association...as a kind of pun ("Mi Nova no va!" "Jajajajaja!").
- The above urban legend was based on the absolutely real instance where the Mitsubishi Pajero had its name changed in all Spanish-speaking countries (plus the United States), where the word, pronounced locally, can mean "wanker" (the meaning of Pajero varies based on dialect; the ones where the name was changed are the ones where it's obscene—the US was included because the obscene meaning is used in Mexican Spanish).
- There's also Motorola who made an advertising campaign about their phone, Motorola Q. The ad had "My Q" on it. In, French this is "Mon Q". Which sounds exactly like "Mon cul". Which means "My ass".
- About France, it can sometimes be a funny place to live if you know English:
- Don't get spooked when you see a French bakery. Even if it is likely to have only word on the sign: "Pain". Yeah, that's French for "bread". "Pain/Pan" (or its homophones) also means "bread" in several other languages — including Japanese (in which case, it actually is a word borrowed from Portuguese).
- And "poisson" is just fish. In one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, Fat Freddy ends up in Paris by accident, and is discouraged from trying the local restaurants due to words like these on the menu.
- French saying: "Poisson sans boisson c'est du poison." (Fish without something to drink is poison).
- "Fanny" used to be a nickname for "Frances". It's still a common girl name in French-speaking countries. But in the United States, it means butt, and in the British Commonwealth, it refers to a ruder part of a woman's anatomy. The opening titles to Fran Drescher's The Nanny take on a decidedly ruder meaning in New Zealand.
- Most Americans are aware that the French word for yes sounds like an English slang word for urine or... the area urine comes from: "Oui" is pronounced as "wee." This is usually the default joke when the French language comes up in an American show, as it was for the first month after Nintendo announced the name of its seventh-generation video game console.
- In Japanese, "tako", pronounced the same as "taco", is the word for octopus.
- In Spanish, "taco" means, among numerous other things, the Mexican foodstuff, or, in Spain, "a four-letter word".
- Taco can mean lots of stuff in Spanish. In Chile it can also mean 'traffic jam'.
- Even a monolingual American can tell the link is authoritative! The webpage has "Real" so prominently displayed upon it, "real" in English means "true" or "actual", "real" in Spanish means either "real" as in English or "royal".note
- And in Mexico, where the meat-in-a-folded-corn-tortilla dish comes from, the word "taco" also means "athletic shoe." This can lead to some confusion when native Spanish speakers try to buy sneakers in English-speaking stores.
- In Swahili, "tako" means "buttock."
- In French, "un tacot" is slang for The Alleged Car.
- In Serbian, "tako" equals English "so (+ adjective)" or describes how is something done.
- In Finnish, "takoa" means "hammer" (verb)
- Coca Cola can be transliterated into Chinese many ways, each with a different meaning. For obvious reasons, they went with the one meaning something akin to "to make the mouth experience joy." They actually had to choose something that's pronounced along the lines of "Coca Coleh" to do so, though, as none of the words reading as "la" were remotely appetizing* — "wax" was actually the most common word reading as "la", hence its ubiquity in the less appetizing unofficial names.
- While they were still looking for the official transliteration, some Chinese shopkeepers used random combinations with meanings such as "female horse fastened with wax," "wax-flattened mare," or "Bite The Wax Tadpole". Urban Legend incorrectly attributes this error to the Coca Cola Company itself — as mentioned above, they were careful to pick something that actually sounded like a name for a drink.
- According to Serbian slang, Coca Cola is pronounced the same way as "(he) is killing the car"
- Only if you deliberately mispronounce it. Serbian uses pitch accent so although both are spelled as "koka kola", they are not pronounced the same.
- In New Zealand, there is a town called Te Puke (pronounced something like Te Po-Key in Maori). It is a running joke in some parts of New Zealand to talk about American tourists wanting to go to puke...
- There are two streets on Auckland's North Shore called Pupuke Road ("pu-po-kee") - guess what many car navigation units have told people to turn left onto.
- The eastern Bay of Plenty town of Whakatane is commonly pronounced "[f-word]-ah-ta-nee". In 2008, the town's free public Wi-Fi blocked searches including the town's own name because of its pronunication.
- In Italy, you can go to the market and buy some "rape" (turnips).
- In Italia, "fagotto" is either a bundle or a bassoon. No offense to gay people implied.
- The word "fagot" is also in English and French and in reference to a bundle (usually sticks or something similar).
- "Fag" is British slang for a cigarette.
- "Faggot" is also a (now obscure) British foodstuff, oddly akin to Swedish meatballs.
- "Fagot" is Russian for bassoon.
- "Fagott" is the German word for bassoon as well. It's only "bassoon" in English, and "faggot" (or a homophone thereof) in every other language. It's not uncommon for bilingual dictionaries to have a note warning of the false friend in English.
- "Fag" (though it's pronounced differently) is also the Danish word for "subject" or "lesson".
- Fagot is also the NATO reporting name for the MiG-15.
- In Spanish, "rape" means "angler fish", "al rape" means "close-cropped" (refering to hair) and "rapé" means "snuff". "to bother" is "molestar."
- In French, "râpé" means "grated" or "shredded", as in "fromage râpé" (grated cheese). A lot of French words with the circumflex (the "hat" over the â) used to have an "s"; compare the English word "raspy".
- Another example: Italian "asso" ("ace").
- More directly, the German "Ass", again, referring to the card and The Ace.
- The Italian word "caldo" means "hot", from the same root as "calorie" or Spanish "caliente". This can cause problems for tourists speaking languages where something similar sounding means the exact opposite, e. g. German "kalt" and English "cold". This is lampshaded in the Billy Wilder comedy Avanti!, where Jack Lemmon's character got an unpleasant surprise when he turned on the faucet marked "C" in an Italian hotel.
- Caldo could be a dish, similar to a soup, in Spanish.
- The Chechen word for their ethnic group is "Vainakh" (literally "our people"; more precisely, the term refers to the ethnolinguistic family that includes Chechens (Noxçi), Ingush (Ghalghai), Bats and Kists). "Voina" (pronounced "vaina") is, of course, the Russian word for "war." This is even funnier if you remember that Chechen people have been at war with Russia for the better part of the past two decades and have developed a certain image.
- "Numnah" is a Hindi word.
- Martin Luther had the misfortune of being tried at the Diet of Worms. (Pronounced dee-et of vorms, but how often are you going to hear it out loud?) Similar problems befall the existence of the Japanese Imperial Diet, Japan having copied much of its modernisation policies from German states.
- Parodied in The Fifth Elephant - the treaty setting out Uberwaldian life was signed at the Diet of Bugs. Sam Vimes lampshades it.
- And in an episode of Blackadder, with "the collapse of the Treaty of Insects."
- When Sci Fi Channel decided to get rid of their nerdy image by renaming themselves Syfy they didn't do a simple text search of foreign dictionaries. It's Polish for acne and also the plural of "syf", which is Polish slang for "syphilis". And that's why the Polish channel isn't being changed.
- (All transliterated:) The Hebrew word "Ani" means "me". The Hebrew word "mi" means "who?". The Hebrew word "hu" (pronounced, yes, "who") means "he". And, for kicks, the Hebrew word "he" means "she". And "dag" (which sounds like "dog") means fish.
- All of this makes a lot more sense if you're aware of their Arabic cognates, which sound less like the English words: Hebrew "mi"=Arabic "men" (OK, that's another can of worms) "hu"="huwa," and "he"="hiya."
- He, Shi, Mi, and Yu are all valid surnames in Mandarin Chinese. Hence the statement, "He is Shi, she is He, you are Mi, and I am Yu."
- Though "He" is pronounced sort of like "Huh" and "Shi" is pronounced similarly to "Sure". Though the surname "Xi" is pronounced sort of like "She", which invites all sorts of "Hu's the president of China? No, Xi's the president of China!" jokes.
- Same thing with modern German, which has the same origins as modern English: "Wer?" means "who?". "Wo?" means "where?". "Wenn" actually means "when", but "wen?" means "whom?".
- The word "wenn" means "when" or "if" in subordinate clauses ("Wir treffen uns, wenn die Uhr 12 schlägt" - "We meet when the clock strikes 12"), but the interrogative "when?" is "wann?" in German. Similarly, "will" means "want" in English, rather than "will".
- And even more so with Dutch. 'Wie' (pronounced like English 'we') in Dutch is 'who', while in German in translates to 'how'. 'Hoe' (pronounced like 'who') translates to 'how' (German 'wie'). 'Waar' is Dutch for 'where', 'war' is German for was, both are pronounced like the word that denotes a violent and potentially deadly conflict in English. 'Was' (German for 'what') translates to either 'wash', the first person singular past of 'to be', or 'wax' in Dutch.
- On the same note (emotionally) "sensitive" is "sensibel" in German, while "sensible" translates to "vernünftig".
- Odd and Randi are perfectly normal Norwegian names...
- Randy is a normal name in the US too, but it'll raise some eyebrows (or cause fits of uncontrollable sniggering) in the UK.
- The word "snigger" itself will likely elicit cries of "racism" in the US.
- In Spanish, embarazada means pregnant, not "embarrassed". Watch out for this if you've been drunk and need to apologise for your behaviour.
- And who could forget the wonderful Austrian village by the name of Fucking, whose residents used to spend surprisingly large amounts of money on replacing stolen road signs until they ended up putting a sign made of concrete?
- More recently, a beer named "Fucking Hell" has appeared, its name referring to this place and its colour, "hell" meaning "light" or "pale". This one was probably intentional though.
- Austria also has the more obscure but equally delightful "Windpassing".
- Someone in Honda discovered that "fitta" means female genitals in Norwegian and Swedish. Fortunately for Honda, this was before Honda's new hatchback subcompact car went on the market, and Honda had time to rename it to "Fit" or "Jazz" depending on the market.
- One Chinese word for "don't need" is "bu bi". It's pronounced like...
- There's also the phrase for "give us..." (written 给我们). The phonetics for it is "gei wo men." Cue snickering in pretty much all first-year Chinese-language courses.
- There's also "zou hou men," which, while it doesn't sound like anything in English, it colloquially means bribing and literally means "through the back door," or "back door bargaining."
- Also "bu shi" (is not), which sounds like "bullshit" with an accent.
- Then there's "bu shi mao" (it's not a cat) which sounds remarkably like the Dutch "poesje mauw", a child's way of saying, yes, cat (equivalent to "pussy cat").
- The character 福, which means "good fortune" in various Asian languages, is romanized as "fuk" in Cantonese, "phúc" in Vietnamese and "fuku" in Japanese.
- "That one there" (那一个) is pronounced 'na yi ge'. In casual speech, this gets slurred into 'nei ge', which sounds like a very racist n-word.
- Horo's status in Spice and Wolf as The Tease is is further reinforced by the fact that "horo" is a Finnish slang word for "whore".
- There is the Slavic folk dance called "horo" (or "kolo", depending on the nation).
- In 1987, a German football player named Franco Foda played in Brazil. When he was announced, the stadium audience pissed themselves laughing. Why? His name just so happens to be Portuguese for "fucking for free."
- Not quite: "Franco" does mean "free" (a literary/seldom used word for it), and "foda" does mean "fuck", but it makes no particular sense grammatically. Still amusing though. Just like the similarly unfortunately named bass player for Stratovarius, Lauri Porra (Lauri Cum).
- "Gift" means poison in both Swedish, Danish and German (Modern German usage derives from the word 'gift'-as-in-present being used as euphemism for poison in the Middle Ages.).
- The British newspaper Metro features a daily sudoku puzzle with the title "Metroku". A bilingual reader wrote to the letters page and pointed out that, in French, this sounds exactly like "mettre au cul", or "shove it up the arse".
- Russian and Hebrew have somewhat similar phonetics, especially when the speaker has a Russian / Eastern European accent, which is often the case. This renders mundane Hebrew phrases like "worried about losing eligibility for a postdated check" or "new tabernacles (sukkot) will be built" virtually unprintable in Russian. And Russian is not exactly the language of prudes...
- In fact, the Hebrew word for 'Ugly' is also unprintable.
- While not outright unprintable, many words in English and other European languages are impossible to literally translate to Russian, being that Russian is a very literal language with complex grammar far different than that of most Indo-European and even other Slavic languages, translators to Russian usually work around this with loose translations.
- Latin is a serial offender. "Labia" means "lips". In English, "labia" only refers to the "lips" of lady parts. The original Latin word and its meaning are preserved in Spanish "labios" and Portuguese "lábios".
- In Portuguese, "labia" can also mean "meaningless conversation". In Spanish, to have "labia" means to have a way with words.
- The Latin word for "scabbard" is "vagina". The Latin word for "with" is "cum".
- In German, "Scheide" can mean both "scabbard" and "vagina".
- One particular Latin textbook had a recurring character known as "Sextus". He is very annoying. The Latin word for "annoying" is "molestus". So you have, repeated over and over throughout the book, "Sextus molestus", or, "Sextus is Annoying". There's a good chance that this was deliberate on the part of the publishers. Given the maturity level of the average high school freshmen, this causes problems.
- A classic among French students (well, it was a classic back when Latin was widely studied in high school) : conjugation for the verb "amare" (to love) goes like this : amabo, amabis, amabit, with the third one being pronounced exactly like "Ah, ma bite" ("Ah, my cock")
- There's also the Norwegian football team Fotballaget Fart.
- Based in Vang, no less...
- The word "douche" only means "vaginal wash" in English. In about a dozen other languages, it still has its original meaning of "shower". (Words that sound like "shower", meanwhile, tend to mean "rainfall" in some Germanic languages.)
- "The End" in Danish and Swedish is "Slut" (pronounced "sloot"). Tourists are usually fairly amused by the fact that the end of the train line in Swedish is marked by a giant sign that reads "Slutstation".
- A lot of older Danish movies will also end on that jolly note. Also, "service elevator" is "Godselevator".
- And when the Godselevator is in motion, a sign will light up reading "I Fart".
- There is a Vietnamese soup called "Pho" (diacritical marks omitted), but the phonetic pronunciation is "Fa". Many Vietnamese restauranteurs have amused themselves by naming their shops things that are perfectly fine if you pronounce it like an ignorant American. "Pho King" and variants are quite popular.
- Traffic signs reading "Infart" are quite common in Sweden.
- And in Germany, "Ausfahrt" appears on signs for highway exits.
- This is part of the reason the Welsh prophet/bard Myrddin became Merlin. The original name sounded a bit like "merde", which means "shit" in French, the native tongue of English nobility at the time, but in their literary language, Latin, the resemblance is much more striking—the Latinized version Merdinus literally means "Little Shitman" (merda = "shit" + diminutive -in- + masculine nominative -us). Changing D to L gave the less offensive "Merlinus", which became "Merlin" in English.
- In Denmark, a timetable will likely be labelled "fartplan". Cue sniggering English-speaking tourists.
- A popular Iranian cleaning product is called "Barf", the Persian word for snow. Most English speakers snicker at the idea of putting barf all over their dishes or filling their washing machines up with barf.
- In Italy, Brasil and Spain,when a toast is made it's common to say "cin cin!"/"tim tim"/"chin chin" (pronounced "cheen cheen" -an onomatopoeia for the sound of glasses clinking together). In Japan, doing this would be very unfortunate, as "chinchin" is slang for "penis".
- The same goes in Mexican Spanish: Chinchin sounds like you're cursing twice. (as ˇChin, Chin!, translated as Damn it, DAMN IT!)
- In Nigeria, there is a snack called chin chin.
- A non-dirty example: in some (all?) Star Wars works that get translated to French, half the characters' names are changed to reflect differences in pronounciation. Luke and Leia are left alone, but Han becomes Yan (because in French, the h is silent, so "Han" would sound like "Anne", not a sufficiently masculine name for that guy) and the chosen names of Sith change from Darth to Dark (because French has no th sound, so people would just pronounce it like "dart", and at least "dark" is appropriate in English). Additionally, Count Dooku had to have his name changed in the Portuguese releases because "Dooku" is pronounced identically to "do cu" which means "from the ass".
- Actually, in French it is not unknown for men to have "Marie" or "Anne" among their first names, the real problem with "Han" in French is probably that with its long "a" it is in danger of being pronounced like "âne" (donkey, ass).
- Another non-dirty example involves a German pastor giving a Christmas guest sermon in South Africa. He made a valiant attempt at Afrikaans, too; unfortunately, this lead to him saying that the shepherds were watching over their flocks by night, "en toe word die hele hemel hel" (and then all of Heaven turned into Hell). What he meant to say was, "en toe word die hele hemel helder" (and then the sky became bright). The confusion occurred because "hell" is German for "bright".
- Condoleezza Rice's first name causes endless mirth among Czechs, "kunda" being a dirty word for female privates and "lízat" meaning "to lick". Newscasters refer to her simply as "Riceová" or "the [former] American secretary of state".
- The webpage of a Canadian sociology professor, Ziva Kunda, has become legendary among Czech and Slovak internet users. "Kunda" is a variant of Country Matters and "živá" means "living" — incidentally, Ziva Kunda herself died in 2004. Ms. Kunda was apparently aware of the source of her popularity in that part of the world and did not find it funny.
- In Japanese, "kuma" means "bear". In Swahili, it's a vulgar slang term for vagina.
- One book by Fritz Spiegl relates the story of how, in the Second World War, the obvious thing to do with the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories was to abbreviate it to AMGOT. Unfortunately this turned out to mean something unprintable in Turkish and the abbreviation was hastily changed to "AMG". In a footnote, Spiegl adds that none of the Turks he knew was prepared to tell him what the meaning was. One, after he had finished laughing, said "no such word", which is strictly accurate — it's two rude words joined together.
- English "pedo" (shorthand for "pedophile"), Spanish pedo ("fart").
- The Dutch word for "removable" is "demontabel."
- To Americans, "bimbo" is a derogatory thing to call a woman. To Mexicans, who pronounce it as [ˈbim.bo] it's the name of their country's largest food corporation and a colloquial term for for "bread", much like Kleenex is for tissues.
- That brand of bread is available in the US; the label includes 'Say BEEM-bo' on it under the name.
- In German, "Bimbo" can be a derogatory term for an African, or a servant or general dogsbody.
- Any wonder why the Bimbo company, also a major bakery in the US, mainly make Arnold or Oroweat bread?
- While in Japanese, bimbo (na) means poor, as in, not having money.
- The fun part? "Bimbo" comes from the Italian word for "kid".
- The word for "Emergency" in German is "Not". Emergency exits are thus labeled Notausgang.
- Polish, Czech and Slovak: These languages are generally similar enough for Bilingual Dialogue to work, but the differences can lead to amusing misunderstandings.
- For example the Polish word szukać (to look for) sounds a lot like the Czech word meaning to fuck. This has lead to the following situation: A little Czech girl got lost somewhere in Poland. When she was finally found, she was apparently "intimidated by the language barrier". Especially after being told everyone's been looking for her.
- "Zachód" in Polish means west, but in Slovak means a toilet. They're both derived from root words meaning to go down.
- Czerstwy chleb in Polish means "old bread" while in many Slavic languages it means fresh. Further confusing in Polish "czerstwy staruszek" (staruszek means old man) which means he is in good form rather then bad.
- In Russian, "Cherstvy", when applied to a person, means "coldhearted".
- Orava with a capital "o" is the name of one of Slovakia's northwest historical regions. In Finnish, orava means "squirrel", causing laughter for all Slovak learners of Finnish from Orava.
- German tourists in Egypt occasionally got in trouble for saying the word Kuss—in German, it means a kiss, but in Arabic, it means, well, Country Matters.
- Arabic-language news media (e.g. Al Jazeera) were put in a bind when Jean-Marc Ayrault was appointed Prime Minister of France—you see, "Ayrault" pronounced in the French fashion (i.e. "air-oh") is one small sound away from sounding like `ayruh, which is Levantinenote Arabic for "his dick/cock/[insert vulgar word for male genitalia here]". They elected to pronounce the "lt" to avoid the problem...earning the ire of certain Arab intellectuals, many of whom are fans of the French.
- In the opposite direction (more or less), a fairly classical way of insulting someone in Arabic is to call them "nājis'', i.e. ritually impure. In colloquial use, where it is usually pronounced nijis, it's come to mean either someone who's just generally dirty or who whose habits you find unpleasant. In most dialects, this doesn't cause any funny business, but in Egypt, where the "j" is pronounced as a "g", it comes out as "nigis", which English-speakers might hear as...well...let's just say black Americans visiting Egypt have gotten suitably offended, but not in the way the Egyptian meant it to.
- Not dirty but still amusing: In the Korean martial arts style Tang Soo Do, what most people would call a bo staff (a long, smooth staff intended for striking, for the unfamiliar) is referred to as a bong.
- The title of the First Minister of Wales in Welsh is "Prif Weinidog Cymru." That's right. "Minister" in Welsh sounds exactly like "whiny dog." No doubt this has caused a lot of jokes in Wales.
- Lakota examples:
- The names Che and Sean sound like [cɛ] and [ʃă], meaning "penis" and "vagina". The words aren't considered "dirty", but still...
- Not really dirty, but cola sounds like [kʰola], "friend". This also applies to coda, due to the inherent Spell My Name with an S of Sioux languages.
- Really complicated one: Kanji sounds like [kăgi], "crow". Not much, until you remember what crow is synonymous with in Kansai-ben.
- Conversely, pi means "liver".
- Linguists use the following pseudo-French nursery rhyme to indicate the difficulty of parsing language when unsure which language is being spoken:
Homme petit d'homme petit, s'attend, n'avale
Homme petit d'homme petit, ŕ degrés de bčgues folles
Anal deux qui noeuds ours, anal deux qui noeuds s'y mčnent
Coup d'un poux tome petit tout guetteur ŕ gaine
- Inverted by English and Afrikaans with the sentences My pen is in my hand and My hand is in warm water, which are both written the same way and mean the same thing, but sound rather different. (And for a bonus, both languages know about The Problem with Pen Island.)
- In German, "Depp" means "idiot", usually of the rural variety, as in "Dorfdepp" ("village idiot"). Germans laugh more at Johnny Depp acting like a fool as Captain Jack. Reportedly, Johnny Depp has found it hilarious.
- "This isn't a library!" Except in French/Spanish/Portuguese a librairie/librería/livreria is a bookshop, and a library is called a bibliothčque/biblioteca/biblioteca.
- The last name of the Russian president Vladimir Putin is an endless source of comedy for many people from Spanish-speaking countries, since Putin is similar to the Spanish slur puto (Spanish for either faggot or the masculine form of "whore"). In fact, supposedly when Mr. Putin traveled to Mexico for a work tour as a President, the Mexican spokesman struggled to avoid laughing hard when presenting him to the Mexican audience.
- It's worse in French: putain (one-letter difference, and pronounced basically the same) means "whore" or "bitch", used as an expletive for "fucking". As a result, French language authorities have resorted to spelling his name "Poutine", which makes some sense (it produces the closest possible French equivalent to how it's pronounced in Russian), but is also exactly the name of a Canadian dish of French fries served with cheese curds and hot gravy. Cue snickers across Quebec.
- Made even better by a scandal involving a party calling voters intending to vote for another party telling them their voting station has been changed ... to the address of a Poutine store. Cue political cartoons about voter's oppression in Russia under the foot of Putin (not that there has been a lot, just a little more on the socialist side) comparing voter's oppression in Canada under a box of Poutine.
- Another Polish one: tampon means any bit of cotton wadding, particularly in medical or dental use. So the possibilities for mirth are endless when a language textbook openly talks about Ela going to the dentist and putting a tampon in her mouth.
- Be careful travelling to Korea in the winter. 'Shiver' sounds very close to something else there.
- There is a town near Manchester, England, called Sale. It tried to twin with a comparable town in France but got no offers. From a French point of view, who wants their town twinned with somewhere called Dirty? Especially when an extension of the word in French swearing is sale con, or dirty cunt....
- English "pawpaw" [ˈpɔːˌpɔː], a fruit similar to a papaya (also a euphimism for "Grandfather" in some parts of the US), sounds like German "Popo", "butt".
- An example of this trope across two dialects of French; in French, the slang term for "children" is "gosses". In Quebec French, the same word is the slang term for "testicles". So when a French parent his telling a Quebecois tourist he hugs his kids before putting them to bed, the Quebecois gets a very bizarre mental image...
- The French word for "late" is "en retard". To English speakers learning French, "en" sounds very much like "un" (the indefinite article), so "Je suis en retard" ("I am running late") sounds an awful lot like "I'm a retard".
- Technically, this is based on where the word "retarded" came from in the first place - it itself used to be a euphemism meaning "delayed" or "slowed", as a replacement for the words "idiot" or "moron".
- Teaching 11-year old French students about English irregular verbs can be... patience-testing, at best. Amongst the first verbs on the list? Bite and burn, which read with a French accent, sound like cock and balls.
- Fit in Swiss German translates to something like 'awake' or 'mentally present'.
- The Swedish word svalka means 'coolness' and has pleasant connotations, so Ikea named a series of drinking glasses Svalka. Unfortunately, Ikea also operates in Russia, and in Russian сва́лка (svalka) means 'garbage dump'. The Russian Ikea renamed the glasses to Свальк (svalk), resorting to using a soft l in order to make the words look different.
- The Russian word for boxwood is самши́т [sɐˈmʂɨt], like English "some shit" [ˌsɐm ˈʃɪtʰ].
- The Russian word for "sew" also sounds awfully like "shit" in English.
- So does the word for "shield".
- In many Slavic languages (for example Russian, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian), the word for "brother" is "brat" or, in Cyrillic, "брат" (pronounced more like the first syllable of "bratwurst" though). English speakers with annoying siblings are usually fairly amused by this.
- "Knikker" is the Dutch word for "marble", but resembles British English knicker.
- In American Sign Language, the sign for "vagina" is made by holding your hands flat, fingers together, thumbs extended, and the tips of the thumbs and forefingers touching. Now think of how many times you've seen a hearing person making that sign or a close variation of it when they don't know what else to do with their hands. Notable example: Michelle Obama on the cover of the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 Reader's Digest.
- Great fun tricking new students of Russian into saying the phrase "brave (smelliy) like (kahk) sugar (sahar)" ("smelly cock sucker").
- Yakimanka is a street in Moscow. In Japanese, it sounds like "Fried Cunt".
- Yama is Russian for "pit". And Japanese for "mountain".
- There is even an old Russian joke about a Japanese racecar driver named Toyama Tokanawa. "To yama to kanava" in Russian means something like "either a pit or a gully" (i.e. the guy can't drive straight). That's far from being the only such joke.
- Rather like the French example with "gosses", Chinese Dialects and Accents can give identical words very different meanings. One dialect uses haizi to mean "shoes" while it means "Child(ren)" in standard Mandarin. An adult claiming they've lost their haizi on the train can just be grumbling in one part of China and the cause of bloody panic in another.
- Another joke turns "31 people" (san shi i wei) into "Killed one person" (Saa shi i wei).
- "Kaka" means "cake" in Swedish. The first A is pronounced more like an "O" sound.
- To German ears it sounds like a child's word for "poo".
- Sora is the Japanese word for "sky" and the Finnish word for "gravel".
- The word written sein means "to be" in German and "breast" in French.
- And it sounds somewhat like the Hebrew word zayinnote , which can mean "the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet", "arms" (as in weapons), or "cock".
- Israelis with the name Itai or Shiri (masculine and feminine first names, respectively) are often embarrassed to find out their names mean ‘painful’ and ‘arse’ respectively in Japanese.
- In the same way, if you're Japanese and your last name is Sakamoto, Yamamoto or Ito, get ready for being the butt of all jokes in the Spanish-speaking world, since Sakamoto sounds like saca moto (getting out [your] motorcylenote ) and Yamamoto like llama moto (calling your motorcycle). Seńor Ito (Mr. Ito) sounds like seńorito (a corny Young Master).
- This is even more funnier for the name of a famous Japanese brand of monosodium glutamate named Ajinomoto, since it sounds like Alli No Moto. (Broken Spanish for Don't Park Your Motorcycle There)
- In fact, Japanese names are an eternal source for cheap laughs in Spanish, due of hoy many of them can sound like naughty or weird stuff in Spanish. The best example of this is the name of the author of Log Horizon and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha light novels, Mamare Touno. His name in Spanish sounds like Mamaré Todo, as (I will) suck everything.
- While not as exaggerated as in Japanese, Portuguese names, especially Brazilian ones, are more or less this, due of the nicknaming culture of those countries. The worse offenders are the ones used by soccer players, who goes from the ordinary ones (Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Rivaldo, etc.) to really weird-sounding ones, especially in Spanish:
- In maybe one of the most unfortunate examples of this, the name of Brazilian soccer player Kaká sounds almost the same (without the accent) as the Latin form used in many other Romance languages (Spanish and French mainly) to say crap.
- Another Brazilian soccer player, Borracha, sounds the same as the Mexican Spanish word for drunken woman. The worst thing is, the player is male.
- Even legendary soccer stars aren't safe of this: Pele sounds the same as the past form of the Spanish word for To peel something and also as a Mexican slang for both to escape and to give a damn. Another former Brazilian star, Tostao sounds as a Mexican accented speech for toasted.
- Also, it goes without saying that there’s a lot of embarrassment involved in having the (fortunately farely rare) Israeli last name ‘Pines’ (pronounced ‘pea-ness’, but we all know what that really sounds like). Notable cases include:
- Israeli artist Ya‘akov Pinesnote . He mentioned how a reporter once asked him very politely whether he should change his name. ‘I told him, that gentile, that “Ya‘akov” was a fine Hebrew name!’
- Ofir Pines-Paz, Israeli politician, who was made Minister of Interior, making Anglophone news reporters everywhere giggle.
- Guy Pines, host of a popular entertainment news show, who often interviews Hollywood celebrities. He often checks into hotels saying his names is "Pines" (pronouncing it as the plural of ‘pine’ tree), and when he told Julia Roberts his name was Guy Pines, she said hers was ‘Woman Vagina’.
- The high-IQ group Mensa chose its name because it means "table" in Latin, symbolizing the coming together of equals, but didn't foresee a Mexican chapter of Mensa... and mensa means "note moron" in Mexican Spanish. "żEres mensa?" means "Are you dumb?".
- It probably is not coincidental that "Mensa" also contains the Latin word mens = "mind".
- While not in dictionaries Mensa can be interpreted as the verb menstruate in Swedish; the contextual overlap is nonexistent but will produce a snicker or two should the club be brought up in an elementary school.
- In German-speaking universities, a Mensa (plural: Mensen) is a students' canteen, also from the Latin for "table", since Latin used to be the language of academics.
- The former Prime Minister of Finland, Esko Aho, would have had problems with his surname both in Spain and in Japan. While aho means "meadow" in Finnish, it would mean "garlic" (ajo, pronounced a-ho) in Spanish, and "idiot" in Japanese.
- In Japanese, the word for "day-care worker in a kindergarten, nursery school, etc." is pronounced "Hobo" (保母), which is not exactly a type of person an American would want watching their little ones.
- Italian penne (a kind of pasta) sounds like the Spanish word pene (penis), also an endless source for dirty jokes, especially when the aforementionated dish is cooked.
- In the early 90s, the forward of Valencia CF was made of Bulgarian Penev, Spanish Poyatos and Brazilian Viola. The three sound the same, or very close in Spanish to "penis", "cock" and "(he) rapes". The Spanish comedy site Viruete refers to this as the time Valencia played ballsy.
- Penelope Cruz is sometimes shortened to "Pene" in America. Not so in Spain.
- Czech/Slovak/Polish/German fakt and Russian факт (meaning fact) is pronounced [fäkt] with open central vowel, like fucked in Australian English. The Czech word is often used to ask "is that a fact?" or "really?". Many a foreigner felt offended. In Polish answer "Fakt." means something like "It's true.". Tables for "ash" and "honey" here suggest that fact /fćkt/ in some English dialects may be pronounced like fucked /fʌkt/ in others - Separated by a Common Language?
- The Finnish poet Eino Leino is popular among Czechs though sadly not because they would be fans or great scholars of his work. It is his name that is well-loved, being a mix between an Awesome McCoolname and an Unfortunate Name. The rhyming itself is irresistible, but there is more. Eino is really close to a Czech interjection "ejhle", which means "lo and behold", while Leino sounds exactly like "lejno", and that is a word for excrement.
- Joe Biden's middle name is Robinette, which sounds like a feminised version of the French word for "water tap", "robinet" (pronounced [ʁobine]).
- The Russian name Серге́й (Sergey, [sʲɪˈrʲɡʲej]) sounds like Spanish ser gay [sɛr ɡej], "to be gay". Now imagine that your last name is also Putin (little faggot).
- If your name happens to be Cameron and you visit a Spanish-speaking country, expect a lot of giggles when you introduce yourself — it looks and sounds virtually the same as camaron, the Spanish word for "shrimp".
- In Finland, the word "home" means "mold" (as in fungus). Home videos with English texts used to cause much hilarity to kids back in the video era.
- There is a certain species of bird whose French name is "coq de roche". Unfortunately, it is far too easy to translate this to "rock cock".
- In french, "intercours" means " the five minute between two class periods (or, for some teachers, between two hours of the same course") and not sexual relation.
- The first line of the chorus of Greek Cypriot singer Mixalis Xatzigiannis' song "Pies" means in Greek (paraphrased): Drink! Drink to the bottom! but to a Spanish speaker it sounds like: Feet! Have you tasted feet?.
- In Hungarian, the last name of Ferdinand Foch (French marshal during WWI) means "(liquid) shit". When taught in history class, usually nobody can keep a straight face.
- In a similar vein, Mario Puzo sounds like "farting Mario". In the same way, in Spanish, Mario Puzo sounds like Mario Puso (Mario put that...)
- In Mexico, the name of the famous airplane manufacturer Boeing sounds the same as a famous brand of juice sold there named Boing. This becomes, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as a source of jokes between Mexicans:
Kid 1: What do the Twin Towers have in common with two sandwiches?
Kid 2: Dunno
Kid 1: That's easy: You can screw them with a Bo(e)ing!
- In a similar way, the Israeli airliner El Al sounds like saying The To the in Spanish.
- A very common error in English-Spanish translations is assuming that billion in English and billón in Spanish mean the same. They do not. Billion is a thousand millions, while billón is a million of millions.
- The same holds true in German, as the progression "million, billion, trillion, quadrillion" is "Million, Milliarde, Billion, Billiarde". Billiarde, again, has nothing to do with billards. Same system is actually used in most European countries (in Croatia: milijun, milijarda, trilijun, trilijarda).
- In the English and Greek speaking world, the name Kiki is an ordinarily fine name stemming from the Greek saint Kyriaki. Should this person travel to the Philippines, however, they may find introducing themselves to people a hassle, as their name means "pussy" in Tagalog. In Spain, meanwhile, a "kiki" is a "quickie".
- The name of the ruler of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko, sounds extremely funny for Spanish speakers, since his last name (Sese Seko) sounds like Seso Seco (Dried Brain).
- If you say "pet" to a speaker of Catalan or Valencian he is going to understand "flatulence" not "companion animal", but conversely if you say "fart" he is going to understand "having had enough of something" not "flatulence".
- The "pet" thing also happens in French and partially in Italian (where "flatulence" is actually "peto", but still close enough to sound funny). Conversely, the Italian words "farti" and "fartelo" have nothing to do with flatulence: they both roughly mean "make you (something)".
- The iconic Māori facial tattos are called "tā moko" in the Māori language. "Moko" souns like the spanish word "moco" that means "snot" as in the nasal mucus.
- There are three countries in Europe, whose - and also whose capitals' - Finnish names make complete sense in Finnish. They are Puola (Poland) - "spool" with capital Varsova (Warsaw) "foaling", Malta - "wait a minute!" with capital Valetta ("It's a lie!") and Turkki - "fur coat" (Turkey) with capital Ankara ("harsh").
- The German word for "turkey" (the bird) is "Pute". While not pronounced the same way, it is written exactly as the French word for "whore".
- Tupelo is the name of a city in the state of Mississippi, but for a Spanish speaker it sounds like the spanish words for "your hair". If there's people living in your hair maybe you have been delaying going to the barbershop for a little too long...
- In English, the word "moot" can mean a number of things; a point up for debate, a suggestion, and so on. Albanian speakers would hear this as mut - their equivalent of "shit".
- Similarly, a speaker of Albanian hearing an automobile owner referring to their mode of transportation as a car might snicker, as the word is a homophone for kar - or "dick".
- And if you really wanted to stretch it, a karat - the unit to describe gold purity, is the definite plural of the same thing, albeit with a different pronunciation (Albanians stress the a as in "father").
- In Arabic, the words for 'winter' (shitā') and 'only' (faqaṭ) sound extremely close to 'shitty' and 'fuck it.' There's also a word that's used at the beginning of yes/no questions (roughly equivalent to "Does/is/will [he/she/it]..." or "Do/are/will [they/you]...") that sounds like 'hell.'
- In Tiberias, Israel, there's a inn named Maman Mansion. The hilarity came with the fact the word Maman is the Japanese slang equivalent of the phrase MILF.
- In Spanish, especially in the Mexican dialect, Maman is a slang for they can suck a... (noun)
- "Deception" means, or sounds similar to the word meaning, disappointment in several Romance languages. Not as humorous as other examples, but still a common source of misunderstanding.
- Is also the case with the word "Ingenuity", that is similar to the word meaning "naivete".
- Spanish-speakers travelling to English-speaking countries are often advised not to say that they're "constipated" if they catch a cold, as the English word has quite a different meaning from Spanish "constipado".
- In Icelandic, the word for slush is "krap" and the word for professionals is "fagmenn".
- Learning about the Mongol invasions of Vietnam will invariably cause giggling fits amongst Vietnamese students. "Mongol-Yuan" is written as "Nguyęn Mông" in Vietnamese, and the two words are homophones with "intact, whole" and "bottom". And given the fact that Vietnamese forces roundly kicked Mongolian butts (three times, totaling 9 months in the space of 30 years), let's just say that, uh, the Mongols did not leave Vietnam with their bottoms intact.
- While Chicago doesn't really mean anything in English, in Italian it sounds like "ci cago", which means "I shit there".
- In the same vein, the Japanese city of Kagoshima sounds pretty hilarious in Italian (something like "I shit-shima"); then there's Yokosuka, which looks like "Yoko sucks it / Yoko blows" (only in written form: the "u" in its name is actually silent in Japanese).
- Many Japanese questions end with "desu ka" which sounds like Polish "deska" (wooden board).
- German "geh!" (go!) sounds for Polish people like "gej" (gay).
- Czech car company name, Škoda (in Czech Š denotes sound like English sh or Polish sz), sounds like Polish "szkoda" (damage, or it's a pity, or in "szkoda na to pieniędzy" it's not worth the money).
- In fact, the Czech meaning is pretty much the same and is most commonly used to mean shame. The name comes from the last name of the founder of this company.
- Russian letter Щ name shcha sounds like Polish "szcza" (vulgar urinates).
- The name of the car Proton Jebat has been a source of many laughs in the Czech Republic since it's been revealed. Jebat in Czech means to fuck
- There is a lightbulb company named "Osram". In Polish language, this literally means "I'll shit (on something)".
- The videogame company Sega sounds inherently funny to Italians. Why? "Sega" means "wank" in Italian. To be fair, it also means "handsaw", but that's clearly not the first meaning that comes to mind...