All languages have words that sound funny to speakers of other languages. The Portuguese word for ‘save’ for example – ‘poupe’ – is pronounced the same as the English word ‘poop,’ while the German word ‘schmuck’ actually means ‘jewelry.’
To non-native English speakers, a wide range of English words are able to produce anything from a smirk to outright laughter. Here we look at ten of the most amusing.
In English, ‘preservative’ is a fairly innocuous word that describes a substance that prevents decay. However, Russian, French and Portuguese are amongst many languages where a variation of this word actually means ‘condom.’ Thus the fact that English food manufacturers proudly state that their foods contain no preservatives can lead to more than a few giggles in the produce aisle.
While not traditionally a funny topic, ‘stomach ache’ can be entertainingly lost in translation between English and Dutch, as in the latter, ‘stomme cake’ means ‘stupid cake.’
To Spanish speakers, ‘molestar’ means to annoy someone. Thus the English word ‘molest’ can most amusingly (and worryingly!) be used out of context when Spaniards learning English talk about how their siblings molest them.
While giving someone a gift in English may seem like a nice thing to do, be careful of giving one to Germans – in German, ‘gift’ means ‘poison.’ The English tradition of giving people gifts on their birthdays is thus called into question somewhat!
‘Mist’ is another treat for Germans learning English. To English speakers it conjures to mind the damp, mysterious clouds of water droplets that can steal across the land, hiding objects from sight. However, to German speakers, ‘mist’ means ‘manure,’ which casts a whole different light on walking through the mist spreading across the land.
In English, a bimbo is a pretty yet rather unintelligent woman. This can raise a smile from Mexicans and Portuguese, where ‘Bimbo’ is a brand of food.
I guess so
A rather vague way of agreeing with someone in English, ‘I guess so’ sounds remarkably similar to the Spanish ‘hay queso,’ which means ‘there’s cheese.’ Thus English speakers’ use of this rather doubtful and lukewarm form of agreement can lead to some rather bemused and searching looks from their Spanish counterparts, who are probably wondering where the cheese is any why the conversation has taken a sudden and unusual change of direction.
Another way to amuse Spanish speakers in English is to talk about how embarrassed you are. The word is similar to the Spanish word for ‘pregnant’ (‘embarazada’), which can lead to all manner of confusion.
The abbreviation for ‘laugh out loud,’ ‘lol’ is a relatively new addition to the language that has fast become widely used across the English speaking world. To Dutch speakers, however, it means ‘fun,’ leading to all manner of confusion and misdirection.
‘Squeegee’ is the English word used to describe a scraping implement with a rubber-edged blade set on a handle, such as those used for cleaning windows. This word is not funny due to any linguistic quirks between languages – it’s simply a funny word, to English speakers as well as non-native speakers! ‘Kerfuffle’ is another such gem.
Keep on smiling
Whether it is the giving of gifts or the use of preservatives, it’s clear that the English language is responsible for raising smiles around the world, whether or not the speaker intended them!
Which English words make you laugh and why? Let us know by using the comments box.