Friday, August 3, 2012

Estonian/English False Friends, or "Ants on Lips"

Dutch/English (hilarious) false friend [courtesy of Wikipedia]
False friends are words that look (or sound) alike in two languages but mean different things. A good example is "embarasada" in Spanish, which does not mean "embarrassed" but rather "pregnant."

Well, I've always had a nerd-fantasy of creating entire sentences out of false friends that are grammatically correct in both languages. Since Estonian is my most fluent foreign tongue, that's the one I'm working on. So far I've created a Google Document (available to view here, with parts of speech labeled to help use them to create sentences) with every Estonian/English false friend I could think of and/or find on the internet (yes, there actually are a handful of other websites that have collected some of these). Some of the more elaborate ones (read: polysyllabic) include "eludes" (Estonian for "in the lives"), "august" ("out of a hole"), "hinged" ("souls"), and "supine" ("soupy").

The only two halfway decent sentences I've been able to come up with using all Estonian/English false friends are both in headline style--it's really hard to get subject-verb-object to all work out:

  • Ants on lips = Andrew* is a necktie.
  • Hinge eludes toad on head = In the lives of a soul, rooms are good.
OK, so they're basically gibberish in both languages, but I'm pretty proud of myself. If you speak any Estonian, can you come up with any others? Or in any other language?

UPDATE: My good friend Mark noted in the comments below that I had overlooked one of the greatest pairs of false friends ever: "the Estonian word 'smoking' means suit (tuxedo, specifically), and the Estonian word 'suits' means smoke."

*Ants is an Estonian first name; I have no idea what the actual English analogue should be but Andrew is as good as any.


  1. How did you EVER come to know about "false friends"? VERY interesting.

    I am sorry, I do not speak Estonian. Only English, German, and Math. :) May I ask how you know Estonian? Is that the language of Latvia? I am sorry I do not know-

    Again, another GREAT post. How does your mind work?

    Happy day. Love and respect. Duck

  2. I didn't know they were called false friends until after my mission, but it's always funny when you come across an Estonian word like "pink" (which means "bench"). Also, a phonetic false friend is the Estonian word "teistest," which is pronounced just like "taste test" and means "about others."

    Estonian is the language of Estonia, which is where I served my mission. It's related to Finnish and Hungarian but not much else. I visited Latvia, where the mission home was, but never learned any Latvian, sadly.

    How does my mind work? A better question might be _whether_ it does... :)

  3. Hi. I was wondering if you are still alive? I miss you and your blogging. I hope all is well. Is there anything I can do to help you?

    Sending love and good energy. :) Duck

  4. Ha, I'm fine, just busy and lacking motivation to put any posts together. I actually started a draft last week, maybe now I'll try to finish it soon!


  5. Yo, Austin, you totally forgot about "smoking" and "suits." Those two are probably my most favorite false friends because the Estonian word "smoking" means suit (tuxedo, specifically), and the Estonian word "suits" means smoke.

    I had a whole list of these sometime as well. I think it may still be in my mission journal.