A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

17 English Words That Have Totally Different Meanings in Other Languages

Hint: You won't want a "gift" in Germany.

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A six year old boy child is being funny and making a bratty face while sticking out his tongue.
Christin Lola/Shutterstock


Siblings with little bros across the globe can probably relate to the Russian word for brother: brat (or брат), which derives from Latin words for brothers and pals. In English, brat and its meaning have slang origins related to child beggars wearing torn cloaks. Poor little brats! Here are common words that you’ll only find in English.

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Whoopie Cushion. Whoopie cushion on a chair with the words whoopie cushion printed on it.


European languages love the word fart, but not in the same exact way as English speakers. In Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish, fart is the word for speed or moving objects. If you see I Fart in Denmark, it means the elevator is in use. Fartplan means schedule, and road signs say Fart-kontrol. The variation fahrt means a journey or drive in Germany. Have a safe journey! Or Gute Fahrt!

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Flat lay of woman hands holding present with box decorated with blue ribbon on yellow background


In Scandinavia, the word gift has two meanings. The first one means getting married, which makes sense because it derives from Old English words for wedding gifts or dowries. The second meaning is a little less celebratory. Gift is the word for poison in German, as well as Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. It probably derives from an archaic verb form meaning to give—because what is poison for if not to give to someone? What a gift! Don’t miss 14 of the hardest words to pronounce in the English language.

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Toilet paper


The next time you’re in Romania, don’t call anything crap unless you want someone to hand you a fish sandwich. In Romania, they did the old switcheroo on the letters a and r, so carp, the fish, became crap. Just a little less appetizing for English speakers. Learn about 15 other common words that used to have totally different meanings.

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rain on glass


Mist has such delicate and dewy connotations in English. The word signals all things gentle and ephemeral, but it has the opposite meaning in Germany, where it’s the word for manure, dung, and general garbage. You can also curse with it. Mist! Easy to get away with around English speakers.

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multicultural couple kissing and lying on bed
LightField Studios/Shutterstock


In English, kiss comes from Old English variants of kyss or kussen, which means to kiss or touch with lips. They still spell it with a y in Sweden. However, when its spelled with an i over there, kiss can translate to another common noun that has absolutely nothing to do with kissing: urine. Find out which 12 surprisingly offensive words you should really stop saying.

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Air sickness bag tucked behind airplane seat pocket for nauseous passenger


What’s lovelier than a blanket of freshly fallen snow? Or as peaceful as snow-capped mountains? Don’t get your lines crossed with the words for ice, snow, and snowfall in Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi, respectively. Because they use the word barf for snow. Do you wanna build a barfman? Check out the surprising origins of common slang words.

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chocolate chunk cookies on a bright blue background


Things can get extra wacky when it comes to anatomical terms in other languages. For instance, in France you say bite (pronounced like beat) for penis. And in Hungary, you say koki, pronounced like cookie, if you’re referring to a small penis. Check out these words that mean very different things in England and America.

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Tomato Salsa Dip with Tortilla Chips
Amallia Eka/Shutterstock


It’s probably pronounced more like seolsa, but in American phonetics, salsa sounds a lot like the Korean word for something totally unrelated to deliciousness: diarrhea. In Japan, the word for diarrhea sounds like Gary. Sorry to all the Garys out there for bringing that to your attention!

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Some peaches in a basket over a wooden surface seen from above
Paulo Vilela/Shutterstock


If you’re shopping for fresh produce in Turkey, be careful when you ask for peaches. Your request might be confused for something that won’t be good for your peach cobbler recipe. Piç, which sounds like pitch if it’s said quickly, is the Turkish word for an illegitimate child. Don’t miss the reason why some English words have silent letters.

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Close up shot of white refinery sugar.
Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock


Preservatives in food help prevent mold and deterioration. You could say they act as a form of protection. Same thing in France … except slightly different. Preservative, or preservatif, means condom in French. Don’t miss these British words and phrases that everyone in the world should know.

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Sexy red bra on hanger, white background


The word bra, short for the French word brassiere (a fancy word for a standard women’s undergarment), has been around in English since the 1930s. But Swedes use the word bra to mean good. Bras are good, but there’s no connection between the Swedish meaning and the article of clothing. In Sweden, it’s a shortened version of the Italian word bravo. Bravo, brassieres!

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burning cigarette
Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock


We think of smoking as something you do, but in France it’s something you wear. Smoking is the French word for tuxedo. James Bond and chic dudes everywhere know this is beautiful serendipity. Time to put on your smoking jackets and cigarette pants so you can look smoking hot! Ooh la la!

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pay checks and earnings statement
Atanas Bezov/Shutterstock

Pay day

Pay day is a time to celebrate in English (and also a yummy candy.) Get ready for a massive difference if you hear the term in Portugal. It’s spelled peidei there and it translates to I fart. No, thank you. Test your word skills with these 33 middle school vocab words adults still get wrong.

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Eyes nose woman Young beautiful freckles woman face portrait with healthy skin
Irina Bg/Shutterstock


Time to talk wacky anatomy again. The French word fesse is pronounced similar to face. Except it means, ahem, buttock.

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Pretty smiling young woman reading an sms or text message on her mobile phone with a smile in a close up cropped view


Before textspeak acronyms took over, the English catchall for laugh out loud was already going strong in the Netherlands. In Dutch, lol is the word used for lark, or fun, pranks, and all kinds of general amusement. Find out what the most annoying word in the English language is.

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hot air balloon over the green paddy field. Composition of nature and blue sky background


If you get thirsty in Indonesia, ask for a glass of air, which is the word for water. It’s actually pronounced ah-yeer, so there’s not much chance for confusion unless you’re reading it. Incidentally, the Indonesian word for air is udara. Learn about 70 words and phrases you’re probably using all wrong.

Molly Pennington, PhD
Molly is a writer and collage artist with a PhD in film and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional astrology services and artwork are available at Baroque Moon Astrology. She covers the zodiac, books, movies, TV and culture for Reader’s Digest, and loves to talk about all the ways we make meaning.