Is there a name for when there are two homonymous words in one language that, when translated, are also homonymous with the parallel meanings as the other language? Since I find it very difficult just to explain, I will give some examples.

  1. Second - Second (English)

    • It will just take a second.
    • The runner came in second place.

    Segundo - Segundo (Portuguese)

    • Só ira levar um segundo.
    • O corredor chegou em segundo lugar.
  2. Cold - Cold (English)

    • It's freezing cold today.
    • The school was a cold, unwelcoming place.

    Frio - Frio (Portuguese)

    • Está frio hoje.
    • A escola era um lugar frio e hostil.

Note: The Portuguese sentences and words translate exactly to the ones in English.

  • Please write the English translation for the Portuguese sentences. Nov 26, 2019 at 7:30
  • I've just added a note.
    – Bernardo1r
    Nov 26, 2019 at 7:39
  • 4
    Both English & Portuguese are 'cognate' languages and thus a lot of the words in both the languages are derived from the same source, resulting in similar synonyms, homonyms etc. For example: Both the words 'Second' & 'Segundo' originate from the Latin word 'secundus' which also carried multiple meanings & was a homonym in Latin itself and thus, it's derivatives also carry similar meaning(s). Nov 26, 2019 at 8:04
  • 6
    Your two uses of cold are not really homonyms, just literal and figurative uses of the same word. I don't suppose that there is a word for what you are asking about. Nov 26, 2019 at 9:09
  • As @RiyaAgarwal (+1 to you!) said.
    – Kris
    Nov 26, 2019 at 11:53

1 Answer 1


I do not think there is a special word for this phenomenon, partly because, it is difficult to see what use such a word would serve, beyond naming a curiosity. If you did, it might be something like an interlingual homonym, or something like that. But first we need to be clear about what a homonym is.

It does not, for example, describe just words like cold, where the deviation is really the extension or broadening of same the basic meaning. Here, for example, it is true that nobody will die of hypothermia in a cold war, just as nothing necessarily snaps in a cold snap that does not imply that the words snap and snap are homonyms. The words are just being stretched to a more metaphorical usage just as, when I snap my fingers, they make a sudden, short, sharp (though, by the way nothing actually gets cut) sound. These are not homonyms. Nor are the uses of cold

Let's start with second and its Spanish equivalent, secundo. Obviously, the two words are cognate, in the sense that they are descended from the same word for the ordinal of the number 2 or Roman II. Presumably, both are derived from the Latin SECVOR (I follow - notice the absence of Q, which did not exist yet, and the V, because that was how what we call U was written (which is why, by the way, in French W is pronounced doublevé).

Merriam makes clear that the word second is not a different word that happens to be spelled in the same way.

Origin Middle English secounde, from Medieval (sic) Latin secunda, from Latin, feminine of secundus second: from its being second sexadesimal division of a unit, as a minute is the first.

So second, as in after the first is not a homonym of second, as in minutes and.

So these are not interlingual homonyms. If any exist, you would need to look for them in unrelated languages like Chinese or Navaho. If such proved to exist, that really would be extraordinary, though, given the sheer number of words in the world as a whole, not impossible.


I must add that a search through dictionaries indicates that the definitions given leave much room for uncertainty. The online Cambridge and Merriam dictionaries do very much the same. So Merriam offers for homonym.

A word that sounds the same or is spelled the same as another word but has a different meaning.

It illustrates with

  1. "no and know"
  2. "bow" "and bow" <... and arrow>

But what neither tells us (and neither does full Oxford English Dictionary) is whether that means that your 'cold' and 'cold are, contrary to what I have suggested, are, in fact homonyms, and not merely the same word used in differing ways.

So I looked at the Oxford Companion to the English Language, which is helpful. First of all, it distinguishes within the homonyms between homographs (words spelled the same, (like lead the metal and lead for a dog) and homophones (suc h as boy and buoy). It goes on the say that

Dictionaries distinguish homographs by superscript numbers ... largely on the basis of etymology. The degree of separation in dictionaries usually depends on the extent to which variation in etymology is taken into account: for example, bank (slope) and bank (a place for money) are ultimately related, but have had sufficiently divergent routes on their way to English to warrant separate treatment.

So it is a matter of how strict you want to be and you could argue that second (as in seconds and minutes) is too far away from its parent word to be a 'different word'). I don't, but you could. However, What I would say is in that case the word 'second' as in 'minutes' is like Portuguese, French and Italian for the same reason. So it is not a co-incidence.

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