• Gift (German) = poison
  • poisson (French) = fish
  • embarazada (Spanish) = pregnant
  • sauce (Spanish) = willow
  • triviale (Italian) = vulgar
  • parentes (Portuguese) = relatives
  • slim (Dutch) = smart
  • According to the MacMillan Dictionary online, False Cognates do not have to have different roots. In addition, the phrase itself "false cognates" points to the idea that we falsely recognize the words.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/false-cognate Nov 26, 2014 at 5:32
  • 2
    The most classic Italian false friends are sensibile which looks identical to the English sensible but in Italian means sensitive; and morbido which isn't the English morbid, instead in Italian means soft.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 29, 2014 at 5:26
  • Famously, the name 'Silver Mist' was hurriedly changed by Rolls Royce to 'Silver Shadow' after someone realised that 'Mist' is the German word for dung. Feb 11, 2015 at 23:22
  • @EdwinAshworth I always thought it was "scheiss".
    – Centaurus
    Feb 11, 2015 at 23:29
  • 1
    I had to think of Beethoven's pathetic piano sonata, and Tchaikovsky's pathetic 6th symphony... which are both not pathetic at all!
    – gnasher729
    Apr 12, 2015 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


False friends is the common word for that :)

As Wikipedia says:

False friends are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning.

The article goes on to mention one of your actual examples)

False cognates, is something different. If we look again at wikipedia:

False cognates are pairs of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. That is, they appear to be, or are sometimes considered, cognates, when in fact they are unrelated. This is different from a false friend, which two words may have similar roots but have diverged in meaning.

  • 2
    "False cognates" works, too.
    – Papa Poule
    Nov 22, 2014 at 19:23
  • 1
    @PapaPoule: not according to Wikipedia. And fals cognates have a different root anyway, where many false friends actually may share a common root. (Dutch and English slim and German schlimm share a common root and yet have three different meanings (smart, thin and bad))
    – oerkelens
    Nov 22, 2014 at 19:28
  • 1
    @PapaPoule: false cognates still are similar in meaning, at least following the Wikipedia definition. False friends are dissimilar in meaning, they just look (or) sound alike.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 22, 2014 at 21:16
  • 2
    The loan-phrase "faux-amis" is the one we were taught at school. Is "false friends" a translation of it perhaps? Nov 23, 2014 at 15:50
  • 3
    @FrancisDavey I'm not that much younger than you, but I wasn't educated in Anglophonia. But for as long as I can remember the term false friends was used by English speakers to denote this phenomenon. In my case, at home, I was taught about valse vrienden. The term seems to be international a such though.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 23, 2014 at 21:57

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