How would you call a translation which resembles a false friend, but is acutally correct?

A false friend resembling translation here is one where the target-language word or phrase:

  • is not frequently used
  • parallels the word or phrase in the source language very closely (or vice versa)

Here are some examples of false false friends (German/English):

  • to hinder -- hindern
  • to stutter -- stottern
  • to heave -- hieven
  • to flutter -- flattern
  • to swindle -- schwindeln
  • to cower -- kauern

and examples of translations which parallel the way in which the words are used figuratively:

  • gaping emptiness -- gähnende Leere
  • sth falls flat -- etw. fällt flach
  • writing sth off -- etw. abschreiben
  • sth is in order -- etw. ist in Ordnung
  • I am confused. As far as I can tell “falls flat” and “fällt flach” do not mean the same thing, but “write sth. off” and “etw. abschreiben” may.
    – Carsten S
    Jan 15, 2014 at 18:39
  • 1
    Friends ↔ ¬¬Friends.
    – badroit
    Jan 15, 2014 at 19:09
  • 2
    So I guess "false, false friends" are "true friends"? (You know, two negatives make a positive.) By the way (and pardon my ignorance), what do "sth" and "etw." signify? Jan 15, 2014 at 19:19
  • something and etwas
    – wnrph
    Jan 15, 2014 at 19:45
  • @artistoex: Thanx! Don Jan 15, 2014 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


These are all cognates, and to me personally that's also the only thing they resemble. Which is to say, I am under no impression that they are "false false friends". I merely see them for what they are: the same word that over the course of history has been altered in different ways by speakers of different idiolects, then dialects, then languages.

  • What about the phrases (see my updated question)?
    – wnrph
    Jan 15, 2014 at 18:36
  • Each of these has to be regarded separately. Some might be borrowings one way or the other, some calques from a third language. So again, related. But at any rate, I think for each there will be situations in which they are false friends, in that one is not quite as common as the other, or of a different register, or what have you. (I for one hear "gähnende Leere" all the time, but "gaping emptiness"? Not really, no. And the set of things that can fall flat in English is not the same as in German.) The more examples we regard, the more unanswerable the question will invariably become.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 15, 2014 at 18:47
  • That's actually my point. There might be a multitude of reasons for the translations being similar, but what they all have in common is the strangeness that similarity has to it.
    – wnrph
    Jan 15, 2014 at 19:06
  • But "cognate" also covers many false friends: for example, French attendre "to wait" is in fact cognate with English attend, even though it's a false friend (due to changes in meaning).
    – ruakh
    Jan 15, 2014 at 19:19
  • @art Well, the larger the multitude, the slimmer your chances to find a hypernym for them all, short of using stuff. As to your latest example, the default parsing of "X is in order", to me, is "it's high time we do X". The default parsing for "X ist in Ordnung", however, is "I don't mind X" or "there's nothing wrong with X". So I'd say with these you really have arrived at actual false friends.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 15, 2014 at 19:20

I use the expression "true friends", but only in texts/discussions that also mention "false friends".

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