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Apr 1st 2013 at 9:04:52 AM •••

I commented out a few examples for being Zero Context Example.

If anyone want to fix them:

Jan 2nd 2011 at 4:59:54 AM •••

Didn't the Monty Python sketch also subvert it by having someone respond with the directions that the person using the phrasebook meant to ask for?

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Apr 16th 2013 at 7:07:04 AM •••

That's Not A Subversion, but it's Invoked Trope I'd say. It's mentioned in the description that this is actually a common explanation.

If you refer to another part of the sketch, then I don't know. I'd have to watch it again and see.

Edited by
Aug 28th 2010 at 9:27:51 AM •••

I've trimmed the Real Life section down pretty drastically, to remove anything that's just pointing out a linguistic fact that might lead to this. Those aren't examples, they're just examples in potentia, and they were taking over the page.

Removed examples follow:


  • The Arabic word for "dead" would be pronounced something like "maat". If you are in a store or market in an Arabic-speaking country, and if you have become separated from your friend, and if that friend is named Matthew, yelling "Matt! Matt!" over and over again in hopes of getting your friend's attention is unwise.


  • Chinese is the king of this trope. To take a most basic example, the syllable "ma" means "mother" if spoken with a flat monotone. However, if you say it with the pitch rising from low to high, it becomes "numb". If you have your pitch start high, dip, then end high again, you get "horse". If you start high and end low, you get the verb "to insult". You can do this to every single word in the Chinese language. Thus you get mistakes like "the doctor went to examine the patient" becoming "the doctor went to see the ice man". Or if you really mess up, "The otherworldly saint went to hack the cold inside of a crab". And that's just the pitch inflections. There's also a host of tiny sound differences like the difference between the "zong" (ancestor/religion) and "zhong" (ceremonial wine vessel), or the difference between "lin" (forest) and "ling" (bell). The real kicker? The entire Southern population of China can't pronounce the difference for the latter category. That's right, while a Beijing native can tell the difference easily between "zong" and "zhong", a Shanghai native probably cannot, and the Beijing native can't help but notice the difference because, to him, the difference between the two words is night and day. This means you sometimes get My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels while speaking the same language because one of the speakers has an accent. And that's not even starting on the homonyms, which the vast majority of Chinese words have (just look at this!). It is partly due to this and partly due to the immense difference between various dialects that Chinese movies and t.v. shows will almost always have subtitles, even if the characters are speaking Mandarin and the theater is in Beijing.
    • Really, the idea that there is one single "Chinese" language, of which Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. are merely dialects is a myth created by various governments to create the illusion of national unity. In reality Mandarin (spoken in Beijing) Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong) and Wu (spoken in Shanghai) have about as much in common as English, Dutch, and German.
  • A minor change in intonation is the only difference between telling someone that you ate breakfast and telling them that you ate your morning bowel movement.
  • Similar to English, "ji"(鸡,pitch 1) means cock, both in the sense of chicken and manhood, with an additional meaning of hooker.


  • Dunglish is what happens when Dutch people try to speak English and don't quite succeed. The Other Wiki has some interesting examples.
    • The king must be "I fuck horses", in trying to say "I breed horses".
    • Though that advertisement reading (in Dutch) "Mama, die, die, die" was pretty odd.
  • Dutch and German are even more fun.
    • in German "pfeifen" means "to whistle" and in Dutch the very similair word "Pijpen" means "to give a blowjob" (it did have the same meaning once upon a time).
    • Sometimes it gets confusing: "Huren" in German means "Whores"/"to whore", in Dutch it means "to rent". the Dutch word for whores on the other hand is "Hoeren" which is pronounced exactly like the German "Huren" and spelled like German "to hear" ("hören").
      • Confused yet?
    • Kampf in German means "Battle", Kamp in Dutch means "Camp".
      • Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was translated as "Mijn Kamp" when it first appeared. But this was more due to the Dutch national-socialists wanting to emphasize the common origin of German and Dutch and using an older meaning of the word "Kamp" which does mean battle.
    • Check out this [1]. "Die" is just a demonstrative in Dutch ("that one").


  • Native English-speakers have problems with spelling, but usually no problems with pronunciation. Non-English people have the opposite problem: beginners are often very good at writing, but when they try to pronounce "this is", they actually say "disease". While it's not a big problem if you pronounce "ship" instead of "sheep", it's indeed a HUGE problem if you make the same mistake with "sheet"...
  • It may not seem this way at first to a lot of native English-speakers, but regional accents can make all the difference between "fork" and "fuck" (a pitchfuck?), "sheet" and "shit" (bedshits?), "ask," and "ass" (So I assed him), "ice" and "ass" (ass-fishing?), and non-offensive words, such as "pin" and "pen" or "fire" and "far."


  • The prefix ge- is always pronounced as a English short e sound and never as an English long a sound. Botching this turns the phrase "miaj gepatroj" (my parents) into "miaj gejpatroj" (my homosexual parents).


  • "Hauska tappaa vanha tuttu"/"Nice to kill an old acquintance" is the famous (in Finland) sentence that can occur when a foreigner with limited Finnish skills tries to say "Hauska tavata vanha tuttu"/"Nice to meet an old acquintance". The root of the error is people who have memorized the basic present tense forms of "meet" trying to guess at the infinitive and getting it memorably wrong.
    "Tapan" means "I kill".
    "Tapaan" means "I meet".
    "Tappaa" means "to kill".
    "Tavata" means "to meet".
    • Also, at least in one Finnish dialect, "tappa" is correct tense for "to meet", resulting in great amusement for its similarity to the standard "tappaa" ("to kill", as mentioned above).
  • "Pestä kädet vedellä" is standard Finnish to "to wash hands with water"; In some dialects, it's said "pestä käret verellä", which can be understood as washing with blood.
  • The Finnish verb "naida" drastically changes meaning depending on the case of the object. "Nain eilen Annan." = "I married Anna yesterday." "Nain eilen Annaa." = "I fucked Anna yesterday."
    • Well, wouldn't both be true?
      • If the first is true, the second is likely, but no combination is logically necessary.


  • French: Gotta watch out for those false cognates.
    "Attendre" means to wait.
    "Assister ŕ" means to attend.
    Woe betide you if you think "blesser" means to bless; it means to wound.
    Be careful not to mix up "baisser" and "baiser," either. "Baisser" means to lower; "baiser" used to mean kiss but now means something...much stronger.
    "J'ai chaud" means "I'm hot." "Je suis chaud" means, "I'm horny."
    "J'ai fini" means "I have finished", but "Je suis fini" means "I am dead". To be fair, "I am finished" in English can have similarly gloomy connotations.
    "Un four" is an oven/kiln. "Quatre" is the number four.
  • "Je m'appelle Sue" is "I am [called] Sue". Don't forget, and say "Je suis Sue", because you've just told this French person you've just met that you're drunk (je suis saoule).
  • It's very common for native English speakers to try out "Je suis pleine" when they've had a large meal, as "pleine" means "full" — but in this context it's a rather odd (as usually only applied to animals) way of saying you're pregnant. (A man making this attempt, on the other hand, would use the masculine "plein", which sort of conveys the intended meaning, but is still ugly and weird — you're much better off with "I've eaten too much" or "I'm satisfied".)
  • Also happens with words which are very similar to each other in French, but in English sound nothing alike. For example, "pęche" is a peach, "péché" is a sin, and "to fish" is "pęcher."
It happens with nouns too.
"Lecture" means reading.
"Conférence" means lecture.
"Congrčs" means conference.
  • As a non-French speaker, I cannot help but wonder what "congress" would be, then.
The Canadian government promulgates its laws in both English and French, and uses standardized translations for the names of different kinds of sections, sub-sections, etc. in legislation. The "false" cognates are positively maddening to translators
French "article" = English "section"
French "section" = English "division"
French "division" = English "clause" ("clause" is also a French word with the same meaning as in English, but is avoided in Canadian federal laws)
French "paragraphe" = English "subsection"
English "paragraph" = French "alinéa"
French "sous-section" = English "subdivision" ("sous-section" looks like it should be "subsection," but as above that's called a "paragraphe" in French...)
  • Also "une librairie" is a bookstore, "library" is "bibliothčque".
  • Pronunciation counts, too. Forgetting an accented letter, while not always fatal, can sometimes end poorly. Attempting to request that someone repeat something ("Répétez, s'il vous plaît.") while forgetting a crucial accented e (the first) can lead to accidentally asking someone to "Please, fart again."
    • Learn the sound, not the letters.
  • In French "phoque" means seal (the marine mammal), which is pronounced pretty close to "fuck". French children + English-language zoo = Hilarity Ensues.
    Hence the expression in English "pardon the French"
  • The French words for poison and fish are "poison" and "poisson", which differ only in the middle 's' sound (voiced in "poison", unvoiced in "poisson"). Be very careful when ordering something at a French restaurant.
    • Hence the saying: "Poisson sans boisson est poison" (translates as "A fish without a drink is a poison", i.e. "A fish must swim thrice").
  • French déception means in fact disappointment. The French word for English deception is mystification. But wait, there's more ! French pro and con, respectively mean professional (and by extension, extremely talented: "c'est un pro") and dumb. And then there's the French râpe, which means grater, not to confuse with French gratter, which means to scratch...I could go on for hours.
  • It's common for non-French-speaking Canadians to pronounce "poutine" as "putain". One means fries with gravy and cheese curds. The other means whore.
  • Uncle in French is Oncle, if you see or hear the word Encule, it means "up your ass", literally.


  • In German, if you wish to express that the temperature is too high for your liking, you must say "Mir ist heiß" or "Mir ist warm". The more obvious (to English speakers) ways of constructing this sentiment, "Ich bin heiß" and "Ich bin warm", mean "I'm attractive/randy" and "I'm gay" respectively. ("Warm" is also a somewhat homophobic expression.)
    • Ditto with colder temperatures (or general physical changes). Saying "Ich bin kalt" instead of "Mir ist kalt" means/implies "I'm a cold-hearted person" rather than "I feel cold."
  • English speakers/writers just replacing an umlaut with the corresponding normal letter usually end up with a word that does not exist. There are a few examples where it changes the meaning, though, such as schwül/schwul (muggy vs gay), schön/schon (pretty/beautiful vs already) or ächten/achten (to outlaw vs to respect) - incidentally, the change of the vowel also changes the pronunciation of the ch in the latter example.


  • Never use the verb "yada," meaning to know, with a person as the object of the verb, unless you mean to convey that you've had sex with that person. (As in Genesis 4:1, Ve-ha-adam yada et Ḥava ishto, "And the man knew his wife Eve.") Otherwise the correct verb is "hekir."
    • Wow, that gives a completely new meaning to the yada yada thing.
    • Which, as any good Torah scholar knows, can have interesting connotations when when you go back and apply it to the text. Like the Sodomites. Who wanted to * Ahem* know God.
    • Same in French. You never use "savoir" in reference to a person, but "connaitre."
    • So "to know in the biblical sense" is preserved in the source language, then.
  • "Metzuyan", the word for excellent, is a common source of jokes among kids as your teacher will often write it. It's funny because "mezuyan", means fucking (as an adjective, not a verb), and a native Hebrew speaker is more likely to edge towards the latter in (cursive) writing than in speaking due to the similar letters.
    • Amusingly, "mezuyan" also means armed, but that is not a mistake, it's acutally the same word. There actually is another word for armed which has no such other meaning, but Fucking Robbery is still the official term.
  • Related to the "Matt as a cognate for dead" example up in the Arabic section, the Hebrew word for death is "emet". This makes watching Back To The Future rather humorous, especially when you're watching Mary Steenburgen shouting "Death! Death!" while searching for Dr. Brown.


  • Hungarian language lesson:
    főkábel means main wire,
    fókabél means seal guts
  • A common mistake: "Egészségedre" = "to your health." "Egészsegedre" = "to your whole ass." (Although the correct spelling of the latter would be "egész seggedre", which is also pronounced slightly differently, and a definite article is missing for correct grammar; thus, this mispronunciation of "egészségedre", while common, will never really be misunderstood.)
  • "Szár" means "stem". "Szar" is a swear word meaning "shit" (not as an exclamation, the Hungarian equivalent of that translates as "fuck it").


  • In Irish, the verb múin means "to teach", while mún is "to urinate". They are conjugated in the same way and the pronunciation difference is very slight. Cue hilarity.
  • The Irish phrase for "drinking" is ag ól while the phrase for "crying" is ag gol. While one can lead to the other, the distinction can be important.


  • Pčsca is a peach, Pésca is the substantive commonly associated when going fishing (though not all Italian accents pronounce the difference). The worst offender is the word 'Cěrcolo', though, since it already has THREE meanings by itself (one being 'circle', one being 'I circulate' and the last being 'club/association'), but changing the accent from the first to the last syllable turns it into 'he circulated'.
    • Meet my friend, Joe Context. It's quite difficult to form a phrase with the different meanings of 'pesca' or 'circolo' that will be misunderstood, let alone cause people to laugh at you.
    • "Penne" means pens, and is the name of a type of pasta. "Pene" means penis. You may begin the juvenile giggling.
      • "Pene" also means 'woes', as in 'pene dell'inferno', which could either mean 'hell's penis' or 'hellish woes', depending on the preceding determinative article. 'Penne' can also mean 'feathers' and 'pens', for that matter. Enjoy.
    • In Italian, "vestito" signifies formalwear for either gender. Woe betide the Italian mother who begins talking about the dress her son is going to wear to his wedding...
  • "Romanzo" means novel, not romance.
  • "Spina" means both "thorn" and "plug". Birra alla spina also means beer straight from the barrel. Have fun!
  • "Uomini" sounds like "women", but means "men"; the word for "women" is "donne". Remember this if you ever need to go to the toilet.


  • Even native Japanese speakers can fall into this trope when writing kanji.
  • Japanese: Be careful of your pronunciation at the end of a meal in a restaurant.
    "Kanjo kudasai" means "[I would like] the check, please."
    "Kancho kudasai" means "[I would like] an enema, please."
  • Japanese adjectives ending in 'i' (sometimes known as verbal adjectives) can be modified to suggest that something looks or seems a certain way by replacing 'i' with 'sou'. 'atarashii', new, becomes 'atarashisou', seems new. 'samui', cold, becomes 'samusou', looks cold. Be careful, though, if you want to complement your Japanese girlfriend on her new outfit. 'kawaii' is 'cute', but 'kawaisou' means 'pitiful' or 'pathetic'.
    • And "kowai" means "scary".
  • In bars: it takes some care to order a beer (biiru) rather than a building (biru).
    • "Chin chin" is a common English toast. "Chinchin" is a Japanese word for "penis". This one happens a lot.
  • "Ogenki desu ka?" = "How are you?" "O-benpi desu ka" = "Are you constipated?"
  • Kansha suru, meaning 'to be grateful' and gansha suru, meaning 'to ejaculate on your partner's face' are similar at best but as you improve your Japanese accent K and G blend even more until the difference is purely inflection. As such it is not uncommon for non-natives attempting to express gratitude to come out with "gansha shiteimasu". Not an appropriate act of thanks at all If You Know What I Mean.
  • Karai, karui, kirai, kirei, kuroi, kurai. Hot/spicy, light(weight), dislike, clean/nice, black, dark.
  • Double vowels and consonants also tend to confuse things: Oji-san (uncle/any middle aged man) and Ojii-san (grandfather/any old man) sound completely different to any Japanese speaker, but most non-natives have a very hard time telling them apart.


  • "Seunsengneem" is what you would call your teacher, the "neem" thing technically a respectful suffix you always use. Your Korean teacher will be amused if you try to call him/her "sengseunneem", a.k.a. fish. With respect.


  • In Portuguese Pula is a very innocent word that means to jump or jump. In Romanian on the other hand it means Penis. Have fun going through Lisbon with small children yelling "Pula" at every corner.


  • Writers should be careful when they're asked what they do for a living. If you want to say "I write" but inflect the phrase "ya pisatel" incorrectly, you'll have said "I piss."
    • Happens when conjugating the verb "to write" sometimes too. The infinitive of "to write" is pisat, with the inflection on the second syllable. If the inflection is on the first syllable, it means "to piss." Furthermore, "to write" is slightly irregular, so if you conjugate it as though it isn't, you end up conjugating for "to piss."

Sign Language

  • This can even happen in unspoken conversation, such as American Sign Language (ASL). For example: the phrase "I am hungry" is cupping your dominant hand into a "c" and motioning from throat to stomach once. Novices will often repeat the motion many times in order to imply "very hungry," but the repetition changes the phrase to "horny." Hilarity Ensues.
  • Also in American sign language, the sign for "meet" is very similar to the sign for "have sex with." So when trying to say "Nice to meet you," one can accidentally say, "Nice to have sex with you."
    • In a similar vein, the word 'meet' has somehow come to mean 'make out with' in modern-day Irish slang.
    • The sign translating to "do the dishes" has the same similarity; then again, it is a relatively uncommon euphemism. Distance between the hands is also pretty much all that separates certain forms of the word "conference" and "to make out"
  • Yet another example is the word "Shy", which with a slight shift of the hand becomes "Prostitute".
  • In British Sign Language, the sign for 'petrol' and 'gay sex' are very similar, as are the signs for 'soda' and 'fuck!'


  • If you say the word "papá" with the accent on the second syllable, it's an affectionate term for one's male parent. If you say "papa" with the accent on the first syllable, you're talking about a potato.
    • In a similar way, if you say the word "mamá" with the accent on the second syllable, it is an affectionate term for one's mother. If you say "mama" with the accent on the first syllable, you are saying "Breast." Of course, Hilarity Ensues.
    • It Gets Worse: You see, mama meaning breast leads to the verb mamar (which has a third person of mama), meaning to breast feed or, more generally, to suck on something, perhaps to get some milk out of it, If You Know What I Mean
      • Context exists in Spanish too. And 'mama' is the clinical term, so the pun is not too funny to begin with.
  • Another issue is with the articles el/los and la/las. Usually they're for masculine and feminine words, but some words can use either article depending on the meaning. For example, "la cura" is cure, but "el cura" is priest. Also, while "la papa" certainly refers to a potato as mentioned above, "el papa" refers to The Pope.
    • In some Spanish regions, most people say "mama" and "papa" instead of "mamá" and "papá". Also, in some Spanish regions, is traditional (a traditional mistake, you could say) to include the article before the noun. So it's not unheard of saying "la mama" instead of "mamá" or "el papa" talking about your father, not about the Pope. Spanish is a complicated language, and we Spaniards complicate it more.
  • The word for carpet is "alfombra" while the word for folder is "carpeta", and the word "realizar" doesn't mean realize, but to create, or to do something, depending on the the context.
    • That's the most usual example for false friends taught on Spanish schools.
      • The worst part of it all is that context for the word does indeed exist in spanish; "situación embarazosa" is a perfectly acceptable way of talking about an embarrassing or otherwise awkward situation.
    • The actual word for pregnant which sounds like the English for pregnant is preńado/a (can't be discriminating against seahorses, Godzilla and Arnie). The problem here is that preńado is used almost exclusively for animal pregnancies, which can make it rather insulting.
  • There's at least one story of a doctor who, when dealing with a pregnant woman, accidentally used the word puta (whore), instead of puja (push).
  • For male subjects, "good" is translated as either "bien" or "bueno" depending on the situation. Saying "estoy bien" means "I'm okay", but "estoy bueno" amounts to "I'm hot/sexy".
  • In Argentinian Spanish, "A-MOZO" is "waiter". But it's a bad word in Chilean Spanish. (My Spanish teacher wouldn't tell us what it meant.)
  • Another "context" example, though neither meaning is dirty: "estado" is both the past participle of "estar" (meaning "to be") and the word for "state" (as in "Los Estados Unidos", the United States.)
  • The verb abrazar in Spanish means to hug, or to embrace. However, the verb abrasar (pronounced the same way) means to burn or to set ablaze. This could be quite bad if you accidentally set something on fire and you need help putting it out.
    • Likewise, casarse means to marry [someone], while cazar means to hunt [something].
      • Actually, they are not pronounced the same way. Abrazar is pronounced abraθar while abrasar is pronounced abrasar. However, in most Spanish speaking south-america and andalucia, both θ and s are pronounced the same way, due to cultural reasons. In any case, the correct pronunciation is the different sounds for Z and S.
  • The word for "comb" (the noun) is "peine." The word for "penis" is "pene." Americans (especially those in the South) frequently have trouble pronouncing it the difference. Leads to lots of Spanish students saying "Please give me the penis," when they actually just want a hair-detangling instrument.


  • Swedish has a bunch of false friends with english too, most of them not as funny, but for example:
    • "Konsekvent" means "consistently", while what in English would be "consequently" is "följaktligen".
    • And "eventuellt" means "possibly".
    • "Engagerad" sounds similar to "engaged", but means "active" or "involved".
      • Which is not that much of a difference, since one meaning of "engaged" in English is "active" or "involved".
    • "Vrist" means "ankle".
    • "Gift" can, depending on context and pronounciation, mean either married or poison.
    • Another funny example: "Kiss" means "pee" in Swedish. The Swedish word for kiss is either "puss" (affectionate) or "kyss" (romantic/sensual).
      • Hitting several similar ones at once: "He buys a pink sheet for a kiss". "Buys" sounds like "bajs" meaning "poo"; "pink" means "pee"; sheet sounds like "skit" meaning "shit" and kiss is as above.
    • Swedish also has one with Danish and Norwegian. The word "rolig" means calm in Danish and Norwegian, while in Swedish it means "fun" or "funny".
    • Also, "pula" means approximately "tinker" in Swedish and something quite different in Norwegian.
      • The Norwegian word is actually "pule", and is roughly equivalent to the F-word.
  • For some Swedish words it also matters how you stress the syllables. For example, "stegen" can mean "the ladder" (STE-GEN) or "the steps" (the walking kind) (STE-gen) and "anden" can mean "the spirit" (AN-DEN) or "the duck" (AND-en). Usually context makes it clear which you mean, so it's rarely a problem.
    • Although my personal favourite, "banan" (Banana/the train) has confused me several times already.
  • In Swedish, it's also important to remember that compound words can't be separated, or else the meaning changes. One of the most famous examples is "fryst kycklinglever" (frozen chicken liver) vs. "fryst kyckling lever" (frozen chicken lives). This is mainly a problem in writing (even for Swedes themselves), though it might possibly cause some confusion in speech too.
  • "Simma" means "to swim", "Svimma" means "to go unconsious". You don't want to go "svimma" in water.


  • "Putz" has been adopted into the English language as meaning a fool or idiot. It's actually Yiddish for penis. Enjoy walking around with the newfound knowledge that you've been calling people a dick in a foreign language.
    • Ditto for "schmuck". Which incidentally makes this page into a cocktease.

Hide/Show Replies
Aug 28th 2010 at 2:31:26 PM •••

The Dunglish examples are real, not conjecture, and were actually made by companies and famous people. Anyone mind if I restore them?

Aug 31st 2010 at 10:28:23 PM •••

You should probably rewrite them to make that clear...

Jul 31st 2010 at 10:03:42 AM •••

don't know if this belogs here, but there existes kind of a running gag for germans beginning to learn english based on the fact that the german word "bekommen" means "to get". Thus you have a german costumer in an english resturant saying "I want to become a beefsteak"

May 2nd 2010 at 3:10:16 PM •••

'Ringo (a.k.a. Pumpkin) in Pulp Fiction notably calls for the "garçon" to bring him more coffee, believing that it's the French word for waiter or server, and his waitress immediately explains that "garçon" is French for "boy."'

It should be noted that the old way to call for a waiter is to call, "garçon," although now it is considered rather rude.