8 Terms that Got Lost in Translation

One of the delights of travelling is learning to communicate across language barriers, whether that’s perfecting your hand gestures or adding whole phrases in a foreign tongue to your arsenal. But beware of what linguists call “false friends” – words that look familiar but mean something completely different in another language. Here are a few of the funniest linguistic coincidences in English.

1. German Etiquette
Want to thank your hosts for a great stay in Germany? Don’t tell them you’ve gotten them a gift, which means poison. In some Scandinavian languages it can mean poison or marriage, which makes you wonder about their views on matrimony.

2. Fizzy Whizz
Obviously, toilet humour is juvenile and silly. It’s also universal. So if you find yourself giggling over Pee Cola, a Ghanian product, that’s ok. It means “very good cola” locally, and by all reports, the name is accurate.

3. Healthy Choices
If you are shopping in France, be aware that asking for foods without preservatives will get you some funny looks. A préservatif is a condom, and definitely not something added to foods. That said, a préservatif is definitely a healthy choice!

4. Engine of Illness
Microsoft’s attempt to take over the search engine market with its product Bing has been less than stellar. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that in Mandarin, bing means disease. At least that’s one meaning. Depending on the tonality it can also mean ‘ice’, ‘biscuit’ or ‘standing side by side.’

5. Fart Bumps and Fart Bars
In Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, fart means speed, which explains the road signs warning you of fartbumps ahead. Meanwhile, in Polish, fart means lucky, which explains the candy bar by that name.

6. Pure as the Driven Barf
We’ve got Ivory Snow, the Iranians have Barf Detergent. You guessed it: barf means snow in Persian, Hindi, Urdu and Farsi.

7. Order an Aass Fatol
In Norway, if you order an Aass Fatol, you’ll be served a pale lager brewed by one of the country’s oldest beer-makers. According to online reviews, you’d be better off ordering something else if great taste is your aim, but then again, asking a waiter for an Aass Fatol might be worth it.

8. Urinal Cranberries
The Romanian word for urinal is pisoar, which is pretty easy for English speakers to grasp. What’s less clear is why a hot beverage made with cranberries, touted as a health tonic, goes by the brand name Urinal, and includes the English words ‘hot drink’ on the packaging.