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If you thought Japanese was bad, Chinese is a ''goldmine'' of tonal puns. Heck, there's an entire category of proverbs devoted to this trope called Xiehouyu, which are proverbs divided into two parts. The first part presents a novel situation, whereas the second part provides a rationale.
  • The Chinese text "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den" takes this about as far as it goes by only using one syllable: "shi". The meaning is changed by the words' tones.
  • The phrase for "one night’s sleep" 一晚睡觉 and "soup dumpling” 一碗水饺 differ in tones only. So be careful when you ask your female waitress how much a bowl of dumplings costs.

     Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish 
  • A popular one in Icelandic is „hver á þessa bók“, which properly means "who owns this book", but could also literally mean "hot springs river that book".
  • Not to be beaten, Swedish has the famous instance of "poison" and "married" being pronounced - and spelled - the same (gift, actually pronounced "yeeft").note  There's little chance for messing it up, though, since the grammar is different. "I am married" could be mistaken as "I am poison", but the latter phrase make little sense in common parlance. (On a Livejournal, on the other hand...)
  • A somewhat more common mixup is the fact that the word for "six" (6) is "sex", while "sex" is... um... also "sex". (Danish and Norwegian use "seks", but the pronunciation is the same so it still works). Divide people into numbered groups, and watch as they try desperately to ignore (or draw attention to) that fact that they're in "Group six."
  • On a related note, as shown by "grupp sex" misspellings by adding or removing spaces can radically alter the meaning (for instance, "vardag" means the days of the workweek, while "var dag" means every day — or for a more comedic example, "skumtomte" is a kind of gelatinous candy in the shape of a gnome/Santa, while "skum tomte" is a suspicious-looking gnome/Santa). This is a mistake that occurs in real life (in Sweden itself, mostly as the replacement for grocer's apostrophe).
  • Swedish also has the wonderful: "Bar barbar-bar-barbar bar bar barbar-bar-barbar". Translates to: "Naked barbarian-bar barbarian carried naked barbarian-bar barbarian." As in a barbarian from a bar for barbarians. Ho'boy.
  • The old Scandinavian chestnut "Får får får?", meaning "Do sheep beget sheep?" For the record, one of the two accepted answers is "Får får får.", meaning "Sheep do beget sheep." It's also a very good joke. "Farfar, får får får?" "Nej, får får inte får, får får lamm." ~ "Grandpa, do sheep beget sheep?" "No, sheep do not beget sheep, sheep beget lambs." "Åt ost" sometimes appears as an example of dual meanings that can change what a sentence means fairly dramatically — it can mean either "toward [the] east" or "ate cheese".

     Dutch and German 
  • In Dutch, there's "Als achter vliegen vliegen vliegen, vliegen vliegen vliegen achterna", meaning "When flies fly behind flies, flies fly after flies". "Vliegen" means "fly" both as in the insect and the verb.
    • Exactly the same is true for German "fliegen", which means both "to fly" and "flies". There is also the same joke with "kriechen" (to crawl) and "Griechen" (Greeks), which is written differently but sounds the same, in certain regional accents. Leading to the popular "Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach."
    • Another fun one in Dutch is the difference between the uu-sound (doesn't exist in English, but to get an idea, say ee and make your lips narrow and round) and the oe-sound (pronounced like the oo in shoo). For people speaking Dutch, the difference is clear as water, but people who don't even have the uu in their language often pronounce uu as oe. There are jokes about foreigners who want huren (to rent) but pronounce it hoeren (hookers).
    • In some regional accents G is pronounced as CH and in others the difference between B and P or D and T is virtually indistinguishable. Then some people pronounce CH like SCH, and many more examples. It's usually not much of a problem in urban areas, but in rural areas even native Germans can become completely lost and unable to communicate with the locals.
  • Also in German, in which 6 = sechs and sex = Sex, both sounding VERY similar when you're a foreigner. In some German dialects they’re straight up homophones instead of just minimal pairs.
  • The words Wirt (host or innkeeper) and wird ([he/she/it] becomes) sound practically the same. Thus the saying: Wer nichts wird, wird Wirt. ([He] who becomes nothing becomes an innkeeper.)
  • isst ([he/she/it] eats) and ist ([he/she/it] is) are pronounced identically. The famous phrase "You are what you eat" thus comes out as Man ist, was man isst, which when spoken would come off as rather Shaped Like Itself. This lead to the equal sounding variant used in the Rammstein song "Mein Teil (My Part)": Man isst, was man ist ("You eat what you are").
  • In Dutch, there's the question: "Wat was was eer was was was?" and the answer: "Eer was was was was was is." Right up to the last word, they could be talking about laundry, or wax - but the last word says that it's actually about the past tense of to be. It works in English too: "What was was before was was was?" "Before was was was, was was is" (would you believe me if I said the English sentence actually has a different word order from the Dutch one?)

  • English has plenty of its own examples. For one thing, consider that read and lead rhyme, and read and lead rhyme, but read and lead don't rhyme and neither do read and lead.note 
  • “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher”. With punctuation and some word changing, it means “John used the word ‘had’. James used ‘had had’. The teacher preferred James’ word choice.”
  • "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." Again, with some word swapping, it means “Bison in Buffalo, New York who are intimidated or bullied by bison are themselves intimidating or bullying other bison.”
  • In a similar vein, the most the word "that" can be used in a row in a sentence and still be grammatically correct is five: Did you know that that that that that nurse used was wrong? (In other words, Did you know that the "that" that the nurse over there used was wrong?)
  • He put his sex in her sex and they had sex. But what was the sex of the baby that resulted from this sex?
  • If "X and Y" should be hyphenated, you need to put the hyphens between X and and and and and Y.
  • Less confusing, but harder to say is "the thought I thought I thought I thought was not the thought I thought I thought."
  • "Did you read the red reed that I read?"
  • “A woman without her man is nothing” can be interpreted to mean "A woman, without her man, is nothing." or "A woman: without her, man is nothing."
  • "If guns don't kill people, people kill people, then does that mean that toasters don't toast toast, toast toasts toast?" (Verb noun, noun verb noun.)
  • The Italian man who went to Malta shows quite well how such translation problems can show with English – “piece” vs. “piss”, “fork” vs. “fuck”, “sheet” vs. “shit”.
  • "I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse" vs. "I helped my uncle jack off a horse". Did you help you uncle to dismount, or to commit bestiality?
  • Another phrase encapsulating problems that can stem from faulty capitalisation: "using chemicals to remove the polish" versus "using chemicals to remove the Polish".
  • The importance of the Oxford Comma: "We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin" vs. "We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin". While both are grammatically correct, the latter implies JFK and Stalin were strippers.
  • Many school age children can attest to getting in trouble for saying 'Dam' (the big thing that blocks water, which is mainly used for flood control or providing hydroelectric power, or both), when the teacher though they'd said "Damn" (the swear word, which is short for "Damnation"). Bonus points if the student was actually talking about a persons mother in the genealogical sense.
  • The word "crack" (Anglicization of Irish language "craic", or is it the other way around?), slangy word for good-time-and-good-company.note  There is a tale of a Bronx bar which advertised "free crack", and found it had been — misunderstood.
  • Removing the apostrophe from Joe Blow's Seafood changes the meaning from "Seafood belonging to Joe Blow" to "Joe performs lewd acts on seafood." Oh no, they left it out!
  • Once in the Australian Parliament, Sir Winston Turnbull was giving a speech that included the words, "I am a country member." Gough Whitlam interjected: "I remember."
  • The crew of the USS Pueblo, captured by North Korea:
    "We paean the DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung."

  • "Kokko, kokoo koko kokko. Koko kokkoko? Koko kokko" meaning "Kokko, pile up the entire bonfire. The entire bonfire? The entire bonfire".
  • There is also "Kun lakkaa satamasta, haen lakkaa satamasta", which means "Once the rain stops I'll get cloudberries from the harbour". Lakkaa is either partitive of lakka (cloudberry) or present tense used as future for lakata (to cease). Note that Finnish doesn't have separate grammatically correct future tense, though Finglish happens nowadays. Satamasta is either elative of satama (harbour) or elative of an active infinitive form of the verb sataa (to rain).
  • Another one, from a joke book: "Keksijä Keksi keksi keksin. Keksittyään keksin keksijä Keksi keksi keksin keksityksi." Or "Inventor Cookie invented a cookie. After inventing a cookie inventor Cookie noticed that a cookie had been invented." This particular gem abuses the similarity of the words "keksi" ("cookie") and "keksiä" ("to invent", it can also mean "to notice" but it's a more archaic meaning for it) to hell and back. In some tenses the words are actually identical.
  • Finnish and Estonian belong to the same language group called Finno-Ugric, and are therefore quite similar. Amusingly, however, the word in one language for "government" is the same as the word for "fungus" in the other. It’s also an English noun, home.
  • Olin seitsemän vuotta sedälläni kodossa renkinä (Finnish for "I spent seven years at my uncle's home as a servant"). This is to tease Eastern Tavastians, who pronounce 'd' as 'l'. It becomes Olin seitsemän vuotta selälläni kolossa renkinä, which means "I spent seven years a servant in a hole, lying on my back" – certain connotations of being a sex slave.

French is full of similar-sounding words and phrases, to the point where finding pairs of sentences that sound exactly the same is a minor national pastime. One particularly amusing one translates to "When traveling in the Djinn's woods, surrounded by so much fear, // Keep talking! Drink gin, or one hundred cups of cold milk."
  • The French words for "to fish" and "to sin" sound very similar, especially to one whose first language isn't French. "Fisherman" and "sinner" are even more similar than the corresponding verbs. This is where le roi pêcheur comes from. The same mistranslation can also be made in other related Romance languages. For instance, in Spanish "El Rey Pescador" (Fisherking) and "El Rey Pecador" (sinnerking) are quite approximate in writing but not in phonetic (the "s" before the "c" is easy to notice when heard). And in italian, with fisher and sinner being respectively pescatore and peccatore.
  • A mistake actually made by the translators of Magic: The Gathering card Descend upon the Sinful from the set Shadows Over Innistrad, which in the French version of the game is Fondre sur les pêcheurs. The player nickname for the card is now The Wrath of Cod.
  • Voler also means both "to fly" and "to steal," which makes it very hard to tell what "Voldemort" actually means; "theft of death" or "flight of death"? Either way works.
  • "To smell" and "to feel" are expressed with the same word.
  • "Il a plu" can either mean "He pleased" or "It rained".
  • The words for "over" ("au-dessus") and "under" ("au-dessous") can confuse monolingual English speakers due to the roughly similar similar vowel sounds "u" and "ou" (/y/ vs. /u/ in IPA; these are basically equivalent to ü and u in Germannote ). Those vowels can also cause trouble with the words "bureau" and "bourreau." The first means office (or desk), the second means executioner.
  • The French verb embrasser means both "to kiss" and "to embrace." Furthermore, the noun for a kiss (un baiser) is, without the article, the verb for "to fuck". "Baiser" was used in the "to kiss" sense in older works, resulting in Have a Gay Old Time meeting this trope (and which can be kind of a problem for non-native speakers who learned the language in school, as they're more likely to have come across it in something like Cyrano de Bergerac than have a French teacher who actually teaches them swears).
  • "Plus" and "Plus" is a vicious written one, due to a common slang habit of dropping the "ne" from some negations: "J'en veux plus" could either mean "I want more" or "I don't want any more".
  • A fun one is "la mère du maire est tombée dans la mer" which means the mayor's mother fell into the sea.
  • Another one: "Poisson sans boisson est poison" — "A fish without a drink is a poison" (i.e. a fish and a good drink go well together).
  • "Les vers sur les vers verts en verre" meaning "Verses about green glass worms", or "Le vers vert marche vers le verre vert en verre" meaning "The green worm walks towards the green glass made of glass".
  • "la pensée que je pensais penser n'est pas la pensée que je pensais penser". Pensée, pensais and penser are often pronounced the same (not always, though).
  • In Star Wars, Tenel Ka is a penguin queen (une reine manchotte). Manchot also means one-armed.
  • "à cette heure" means "at that time", while "à sept heures" means "at seven o'clock". These sound identical and can cause confusion: "On se voit à six heures? — A cette heure? D'accord — Non, à six heures! — J'ai bien dit ça!" ("Shall we meet at six? — At that time? OK. — [mishearing that as "At seven? OK"] No, at six! — That's what I said!") This can be avoided by using extra words: "à sept heures du matin/du soir" ("at seven a.m./p.m.") and "à cette heure-là" ("at that time").
  • An apocryphal example where French homophones caused embarrassment at the United Nations, translating “Africa no longer builds shrines to gods” (meaning they’re moving away from their ‘tribal ways’) to “Africa no longer builds horrible hotels”.
  • It gets even worse when you consider that, like the difference between British English and American English, Canadian French has its own variations that differ from the French spoken in France. A notable example is the informal term "gosses," which means "children" in Europe but "testicles" in Canada.
    • The various meanings of these words aside, this has led to some hilarity in the translation of the name of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. You see, pronouncing the word spelled "P-u-t-i-n" according to French rules produces a word pronounced exactly like putain (again, "prostitute"). As a result, the French Academy decided to spell his name "Poutine", which produces a similar pronunciation to the Russian "Путин"...only to realize, too late, that this official transcription now made French-Canadians think of delicious fries with curds and gravy every time they saw or heard the name of the leader of a major world power. To rub salt on the wound, word got out to English Canada and to the border regions with the United States (which are familiar with the dish), which all had a good laugh at the Academie's expense; word got out even farther when William Safire dedicated a disapproving "On Language" column in The New York Times to the subject in 2005. Even funnier — Rick Mercer (an Anglophone Newfie) had, in a brilliant prank, convinced then-candidate George W. Bush that the Canadian PM of the time (c. 2000) was a person by the name of "Jean Poutine" (rather than the actual Jean Chretien). And now "Vladimir Poutine" is President/PM/President of Russia. Presumably, they're cousins...
  • Je suis, can mean "I am" or "I follow", leading to a gag in at least one Irish schoolbook where a kid held a sign that stated "Je suis un âne", which makes it look like "I am an ass" until his teacher turns up and he follows him around, making the phrase become "I follow an ass."
  • A word for lawyer is avocat. The word for avocado is avocat. Guacamole recipes run through Google Translate have been known to instruct the reader to cut the lawyer in half to remove the pit.
  • In the spoken language, the present and compound tenses of the verbs croire (to believe) and croître (to grow) tend to have homophonous forms. For example: "je crois" (I believe) and "je croîs" (I grow); "j'ai cru" (I believed) and "j'ai crû" (I grew). Luckily, in the written language, the forms of croître must be spelled with circumflexes.
  • "cru" (believed) also means "raw". This lead to a restaurant mistranslating "jambon cru" (raw hamnote ) as "believed ham".
  • In French, it's possible for friends to converse as follows: "Ça va?" "Ça va, ça va?" "Ça va aussi." which translates to "How are you?" "I'm well, how are you?" "I'm well also".

  • There is a Hebrew phrase that goes - "Isha Na'ala Na'ala Na'ala Na'ala et hadelet liphne ba'ala" meaning "A noble woman put on her shoe and locked the door in her husbands face (as likely as the next)/before her husband (as likely as the previous)/infront of her husband (the most likely)".
  • There is also "Kama khol yakhol khol le'ekhol bekhol yamot hakhol em bekhlal yakhol khol le'ekhol khol bekhol yamot hakhol?" meaning "How much sand could a phoenix eat on a weekday if a phoenix could eat sand on a weekday?". Although, keep in mind that 'kh' means the hard h sound. So it's the Hebrew equivalent of "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood."
  • In one of the academic libraries in Israel, a window had a sheet of paper attached to it that read (in Hebrew): "please keep closed so that ions won't enter". This puzzled a lot of students for quite a while; until someone realized, in a true moment of fridge brilliance, that it should rather be read " that pigeons won't enter". "Ions" and "pigeons" ("yonim") are homographs in Hebrew.

  • Japanese is ripe with homophones — in fact, the sheer number of them are one of the reasons why kanji are used in addition to kana.
    • One particularly famous sentence demonstrating this is pronounced "Niwa no niwa ni wa, niwa no niwatori ga niwaka ni wani wo tabeta," meaning "In Mr. Niwa's garden, two chickens suddenly ate an alligator."
    • Sumomo mo momo, momo mo momo, sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi - "Plums are peaches, and peaches are peaches, and plums and peaches are both types of peaches."
    • A Japanese equivalent of "Who's on First?" when referring to the Indian naan bread: Kore wa naan desu ka? (Is this naan bread?) versus Kore wa nan desu ka? (What is this?) Perhaps not surprisingly, Yakitate!! Japan runs with this joke in one scene.
    • Of course, the kanji is only as much of a failsafe for causing misunderstandings as it is cause for failure. As mentioned, there's a lot of words in Japanese that mean a number of different things. Take "hashi" for instance. Mixing up the kanji for it can have you writing gems like "I ate my ramen with bridge" and "I went over the mountain canyon over a chopsticks".
  • Ginatayomi is a kind of humorous Japanese wordplay based on ambiguity in where one word starts and another begins (as written Japanese uses no spaces between characters). Basically, a sentence with two interpretations, one perfectly normal, the other similar, but very strange. Example: Pan tsukutta koto aru means, "Have you ever made bread before?" But pantsu kutta koto aru means, "Have you ever eaten underwear before?"
    • This one was played with in CROSS†CHANNEL when protagonist Taichi says to attractive upperclassman Misato "pantsu o utte kudasai" ("please sell me your panties") but due to strong wind she hears it as "pan o tsukutte kudasai" ("please make me some bread").
  • One (probably apocryphal) story goes that a man wants to say his hobby is fishing - tsuri - but accidentally pronounces it suri — pickpocketing. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Japanese also has a lot of problems with pitch accent (think a word like ‘’permit’’ as in allow vs. ‘’permit’’ the piece of paper). MIru and miRU would be different words, for example. Our non-native teacher of Japanese language once told us of a funny moment she had when in Japan. She was supposed to tell about "ten signs of a perfect company" but due to putting an accent on the wrong part of one word, it resulted in "ten signs of a perfect funeral".

  • In Latin-American Spanish, you can get a variety of good puns out of the fact that the words "marry" (casar) and "hunt" (cazar) are only one letter different (s versus z) and are pronounced exactly the same. These puns don't work in most of Spain, however, where "s" is pronounced like English "s" and "z" is pronounced essentially like the voiceless English "th" in "thumb" or "thin" (as opposed to the voiced "th" in then, which shows up for many, but not all, occurrences of "d").
  • Two similar sentences, "Tengo diez años" and "Tengo diez anos," translate respectively: "I am ten years old" and "I have ten anuses." (This is a very common mistake for learners ñ is a letter exclusive to Spanish and is ‘’not’’ equivalent to n.)
  • The verbs "sentar" (to sit) and "sentir" (to feel) are identical in first-person singular ("siento"). This is the basis of an old joke, where a guy goes to the doctor, trying to explain that he feels bad... and the doctor just tells him to sit up straight.
  • The words for "wine" and "came" are both the same (vino), which leads to the tongue twister "El vino vino, pero el vino no vino vino. El vino vino vinagre." (The wine came, but the wine did not come as wine. The wine came as vinegar.)
  • In Spanish slang -especially in Argentina- Putin is a rather derogatory way of refering to homosexual males, which considering Vladimir Putin's and Russia's stance regarding gays, is quite hilarious.
  • 'Hay' (Are, is), 'Ay' (exclamation, like 'Ouch') and 'Ahí' (There). And they're all pronounced more or less the same way. If you have trouble remembering which is which, just memorize the phrase "Ahí hay un hombre que dice ¡ay!" - There there is a man who says "ouch!".
  • "dura lo que dura dura". The first 2 times, dura's meaning is the one related to duration, the second time, its used as an adjective, of how hard something is, so it translates as "it lasts, as long as its hard".
  • "¿Cómo cómo como? Como como como", which translates roughly as "What do you mean, how do I eat? I eat the way I eat". "Como" can be either "I eat" or "like", "the way". "Cómo" can be "what" (e.g. when asking someone to repeat a word) or "how".

     Other languages 
  • American Sign Language has a few of these as well. The signs for 'hungry' and 'horny' are basically the same sign with one moving up and one moving down. 'Recently' and 'sex' are the same, with one moving backwards and one moving forwards. 'Shy' and 'hooker' can be mistaken for each other.
    • In fact, almost every sign in ASL is similar to another, and a lot of them only differ by a few centimetres (moving a finger down five or ten centimetres can completely change a meaning, for example). Some signs differ only by facial expression. For this reason, in deaf culture, it's extremely impolite to interrupt a conversation - it takes a lot of concentration even for fluent signers to see the difference between some signs.
  • Purportedly, the ancient Egyptian words for "mother" and "vulture" sounded the same.
  • It's unlikely to happen with native speakers, but when studying Arabic a certain amount of confusion among the various "a" "s" and "t" sounds is inevitable. To summarize: s and t each have two corresponding letters in Arabic, one "plain" (similar to English) and the other "emphatic" (with a simultaneous additional action in the back of the throat that makes the sound "heavier"). The same is true of the "d" sound. Standard Arabic additionally distinguishes between a plain "dh" (equivalent to the "th" as in "then") and emphatic "dh"; different varieties of Arabic treat this differently ("dh" can be pronounced as "d" or "z" in dialect). These differences are usually clear from context, so non-native speakers who can't quite pronounce these sounds are usually understood, but not always, and in any case they can easily trip up someone trying to take dictation or just guess the spelling of a new word. Meanwhile, Arabic has several sounds that, to Anglophones, all sound like "a:" alif (an elongated ah), fatha (short a), taa marbuta (a gender marking), and 'ayn, which doesn't exist in English at all. This can cause a certain amount of confusion when one's listening skills aren't up to fluency, particularly when it comes to words like "azeez" and "'azeez" ("wheeze" and "dear").
  • In (modern) Greek, the word for a "pair of shoes" and the slang word equating to "dick" are similar enough that beginning speakers can create some trouble for themselves in shoeshops in Athens. Trouble meaning police being called. "I need ___. Can you get a size 11?"
  • Irish:
    • "Bhuail mé" means "I Hit/Struck", whereas "Bhuail mé le" means "I met/meet". Have you met your wife today?
    • "Is mac tíre na tUasal Mac Tir mac tíre." Literally, "Mr. Mc Tir's wolf is a son of the land."
  • Italian:
    • "penne" means either "pens" or "feathers", whereas "pene" means "penis", making it a case where grammatical gender actually comes in useful.
    • There's also "caro/a/i/e", which as a noun means "darling(s)", and as an adjective means "expensive". The Italians clearly have a grim view of relationships.note 
    • In Italian, double-consonants can be tricky for foreign speakers. For example, anno and ano are not pronounced the same, but the difference can be difficult to hear and reproduce without specific practice. Since many operas are performed in Italian, even if the opera company isn't in Italy, this can lead to many amusing (or embarrassing) moments on stage. The fact that one word is often significantly more vulgar than the other doesn't help matters much.
      • A similar (probably apocryphal) story involves "petto" ("chest", as in the body part) and "peto" ("fart"). A non-native speaker interviews a famous Italian opera singer in her native language. He tries to ask about "chest voice"note . Fortunately for him, he only received a Death Glare before she figured out his mistake.
  • Latin:
    • The Latin number six (VI) is sex, resulting in many giggles for beginner Latin students. The closest word meaning sex is probably "coitus", whereas the verb "futuō, futuere" means something along the lines of "to fuck".
    • One notorious example is Dan Brown (probably willfully) mistranslating "Novus Ordo Seculorum" as "new secular order" (i.e. a non-religious order or perhaps even an anti-religious one) despite the correct translation being well-known to be "New Order of the Ages". Part of the problem is that "secular", like many words (arguably, nearly all words in English), has more than one meaning; it can mean "non-religious", but it can also mean "long-term", as in "the secular motion of the Moon". Both definitions are actually the same. Secular things may last a long time but are not eternal, placed opposite divine things that have no beginning and no end.
    • There's an infamous Latin phrase "malo malo malo malo" or "I would rather be in an apple tree than an evil man in adversary." (Latin has tons of homophones like this, although they're seldom spelled the same. In the example above one of them would have to have two L's. There's also fere (almost), fero (I bear), ferre (to bear), ferro (by the iron object), and so on.)
    • This same ambiguity, probably combined with ancient Pop-Cultural Osmosis regarding the Greek myth of the Apple of Discord, is probably how Western civilization got the idea that the fruit that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden was an apple.
  • The "rebus" principle used by a lot of early logograms, writing down words they don’t have a character for with a character with similar pronunciation. It's theorized, for instance, that although the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli has a name written "Left-Hand Hummingbird", his name was actually "Left-Hand to the South". In Nahuatl, "south" and "hummingbird" sound nearly identical.
  • Navajo, like the Chinese languages, has many words distinguished from each other by tone. It's not nearly as homophonous, but you still need to be careful, or you might refer to your maternal great-grandmother (shichó; the "shi" is a possessional prefix meaning "my"; all kinship and body part terms require such a prefix) as your penis (shicho). Similarly, the difference between the word for beaver (chaa') and the word for shit (chą́ą́) is a nasalized vowel.
    • Gets worse when Navajos interact with Apaches, whose language is closely related. E.g., "take his hand" in Navajo means "take his male parts" in Apache.
  • Polish:
    • "Wydrze wydrzę wydrze wydrze wydrze wydrzę" is hardly understandable even to native Polish speakers until you explain that it means "A young otter will snatch a young otter from an otter". "Wydrzę" means "a young otter", while "wydrze" means either "of an otter", "(it) will snatch", "from an otter" and possibly other things depending on context.
    • Another examples from Polish where spaces define the meaning: "To nie my toniemy, to niemy!" ("It's not us who's sinking, it's the mute man!"), "Jakiś pijak, jaki śpi jak jakiś pijak" ("A drunkard, who sleeps like a drunkard"), "Może my możemy?" ("Maybe we can?"), "Włodzimierz! Włodzi w łodzi w Łodzi mierz" ("Vladimir! Take measurements for Vlad, who's in a boat, in (the city of) Łódź"), and so on.
    • Like in French, "to smell" and "to feel" are expressed with the same word.
  • In Brazilian Portuguese, "bala" can mean both "gum" (as in the candy) and "bullet" (as in gun bullet), and these two are pronounced the exact same way. That means "Eu tenho uma bala" in Brazil can mean "I have a gum" or "I have a bullet", and "Eu vou te dar bala" can mean both "I'm going to give you candy" and "I'm going to shoot you". Thankfully, the intended meaning is almost always deduced by the context.
  • There was a highly mediatized and parodied incident where Bill Clinton came to Romania with the occasion of its integration into NATO (or something like that). At one point, Bill Clinton states as best as I recall "We shall march forward, shoulder to shoulder". The woman translator, which incidentally until then did a good job (considering it was a live broadcast), translated it into "șold la șold” (which sounds almost identical, "ș is read as ”sh” in English). Which means ”hip next to hip”. Hilarity Ensues when you imagine two presidents jointed at the hip, not being able to go anywhere without the other being forced to move to the same place. If this hadn't been accidental, it would have earned a Moment of Awesome to anyone who made such a joke, but it would have probably not have been so well known.
  • Slavic languages with their many grammatical cases, declinations and importance of proper accenting to differentiate them can have sentences become indecipherable/wrong thanks to one wrongly placed stress. For example in Bosnian: "Gore gore gore gore." can mean 16 different things (with each "gore" meaning either Up, Worse, Burn or Forested Mountain depending on where you place your stresses.)
    • The Russian example is "Kosil kosoy-kosoy Kosoy kosoy-kosoy kosoy". It means "The very squint-eyed person nicknamed Kosoy mowed with a very slanted scythe".
  • It is entirely possible to have a coherent conversation in Tagalog, by repeating the same syllable, with slight variations in tone. Question: "Bababa ba?" (Is this going down?) Reply: "Bababa." (Yep, going down.) Commonly heard in elevators in the Philippines.
  • Thai being a tonal language, locals like to tease foreigners with the sentence "Green wood won't burn — will it?" This comes out as "Mai mai MAI mai mai...", with different tones of the same phoneme.
  • Turkish:
    • "Müdür müdür müdür?" means "Is the principal a principal?"
    • A Turkish man messaged his wife a sentence that reads "You change the topic every time you run out of arguments". The cellphone doesn't have the letter "ı", however, and used the standard letter "i" instead, so the word "sıkışınca" looked far too much like the word "sikişince" — which changed the sentence to "You change the topic every time you f***". His wife showed the message to her father, who was enraged; this actually led to two deaths. You would think that someone familiar with their own language and is probably aware of their hardware's limitations would take greater care not to accidentally convey "f***" when they mean something else.
  • Vietnamese:
    • When making a speech in Vietnam, Richard Nixon infamously attempted the language, which is both tonal and very difficult to speak for native English speakers. Instead of saying (without tone marks) "Viet Nam muon nam" (Vietnam, a thousand years, equivalent to saying "long live Vietnam") he said, "Viet Nam muon nam" or "Vietnamese want to lie down." Surprisingly, he got applause for this.
  • Also in Vietnamese, the name of the world's most famous beverage, Coca Cola, when said uninflected, literally means "She sings, she screams." When the drink first arrived in Vietnam, legend has it that some people thought it was either an alcoholic beverage, an aphrodisiac, or both.

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