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Men dog eleven? Posted by on Dec 7, 2009 in Swedish Language

In these Google Translation times, the language missunderstandings are probably more and bigger than ever. A friend experienced this when he tried to translate a restaurant meny from Swedish to English and got the not very tempting result “dandruff fish” meaning “mjäll fisk” in Swedish, as in a fish that is very tender. NOT a fish served with flakes from the scalp, thankfully. In Swedish, mjäll means both dandruff and tender. My boyfriend was also in for a surprise, when he Google translated my Swedish blog, where I had written: Var på puben med min nya frilla meaning Was in the pub with my new haircut. But the Swedish slang word for haircut, frilla, could also be an old fashion word for mistress. In other words, according to Google Translate I was in the pub having a pint with my new mistress.

Also, there are lots of English words that mean something completely different in Swedish and potentially can cause both confusion and amusement. Some examples:

 

Barn – Children

Ben (name) – Leg and Legs (same in plural)

Dog – Died
Eleven – The student

Fart – Speed
Faster – Father’s sister
From – Gentle, Pious

Gift – Married or Poison
God – Tasty

Killing – A baby goat
Kiss – Wee
Mage – Stomach

Men – But

Man –  ‘One’ as in ‘One would think so…’

Master – Masts

Prick – Dot

Rita (name) – To draw
Skull – Sake, Benefit

Slut – End
Spark – Kick
Talk – Talcum powder
Tar – Taking
Tina (name) – To unfreeze

 

 

Have you stumbled upon anything similar? Maybe you have frown at the lovely and creamy Swedish chocolate Plopp or wondered what on earth a Juleskum is? Help us make the confusion list longer. Words, expressions, sayings, translations, misunderstandings… anything vaguely – or extremely – confusing is welcome!

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Comments:

  1. Michael:

    This interesting and potentially funny post actually involves two different linguistic phenomena. The problem with the Google translation is that there are words called “homonyms” in language–they are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings because they have different origins. Context is the key to correct translation, and Google can’t always get that right.

    The list you have given is an example of “false cognates” words that one might be tempted to translate the same in other languages but mean something totally different (often called “false friends”). Both of these can be the source of much fun (and embarrassment).

    How about:

    mat – food

  2. kiyan:

    that’s a funny post.
    my Swedish friend taught me: fan = damn 😉

  3. nick:

    Hullo,
    listing these ‘faux amis’ is a great idea. Here’s my feedback :

    a) could you: Also list the back-translation as well. For example you told us that “Gift” means “married” but what is the other translation – what is Gift in Swedish? or God, or Fart, or Master ?
    b) You say that Kiss means Wee, which is different to what our Swedish teacher told us – she said that ‘kiss’ meant ‘puss’ (as in a term for pet cat) and that bizarrely, ‘puss’ in Swedish means ‘kiss’ and thus a ‘pussycat’ in Swedish is a ‘Kissekatt” and that saying ‘Kiss kiss’ is to call your cat over – “here, puss.” Have you heard of this? She was from Gothenburg.
    c) is there a word for ‘faux amis’ in Swedish? Unfortunately, I don’t know of an English word to describe these types of confusion words either… ‘false friends’ is the translation but it is not used in this context. It’s only French that seems to have a term, that I know of 🙂
    d) My suggestions for ‘bad experience’ words seen in Sweden, if you are making a list :

    i) I saw a newspaper once read in huge letters: “SEX DOG” (six dead!!)
    ii) I also saw a bar with a big neon sign reading “ALL SLAGS BAR” which apparently means “All Sorts Bar” 🙂
    regards
    nick.

  4. nick:

    false cognates!!!
    just the ticket.
    Thanks Michael!

  5. jennie:

    Nick & Michael, great inputs, thanks for that!

    I’ve always been told that these words are called false friends, and that they are often mistakingly called fasle cognates. Our great langugae expert Tibor also confirmed this, we would both use the term false friend (falsk vän) when talking about words like these.

    Here are the words again and what they mean – but I’ve left out a few of my choice, Ok? 🙂

    Barn – Lada
    Dog – Hund
    Eleven – Elva
    Fart – Fis
    Faster – Snabbare
    From – Från
    Gift – Gåva, present
    God – Gud
    Killing – Dödandet
    Kiss – Puss
    Mage – Magiker
    Men – Männen
    Master – Herre
    Skull – Skalle
    Spark – Gnista
    Talk – Prata
    Tar – Tjära

    And as for b), the kiss and the pussycat… I would say that kiss in Swedish first and foremost means wee, but as written above, our word for your “kiss” (with lips) is “puss”, wich is an English term for “cat”. Which make your “pussycat” and our “kissekatt” make sense in a strange way.
    “Kissekatt” is a cuddlier way of saying “katt” (cat) wich you presumably would use when talking to a kid. And as for the “kiss kiss”, I would say “Kss Kss” if I had cat to holler at, I have never heard anyone use “Kiss kiss”. It’s because cats listen to the sss-sound, isn’t it? Or is this a myth? I have to look into that too! 🙂

    Anyway, thank you again for your inputs and suggestions, we take notes!

  6. BM:

    And that’s “wee” as in “urine”, not “wee” as in “little”, right?

  7. jennie:

    Good point! Yes, as in urine!

  8. Luke (Sydney):

    Excuse me, bra slut?

  9. Carla:

    “Sin” is the only other one I can think of right now. “Bra” and “puss” are funny when I’m at work, talking on the phone with my Swedish boyfriend. “bara bra, bra bra bra!”

  10. Carla:

    p.s. Luke…. how about that “slut rea”!

  11. AA:

    I hope it is ok to add a link. When I first started studying Swedish, I found this list of false friends very useful. (:

    http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lista_%C3%B6ver_falska_v%C3%A4nner_mellan_svenska_och_engelska

    There used to be one that listed english-swedish false friends, but I cannot find it. Glad to see it being recreated here!

  12. Luke (Sydney):

    Carla, it would be a shock to see it in front of a pair of nice shoes, wouldn’t it? As for my contribution, I don’t know if any Swede actually says it though.

  13. Rokas:

    Some words in Swedish that I simply can’t get used to (några ord jag är ännu inte van vid)

    bäck – creek (a small river)
    klip – cut (English “clip” is more restrictive)

  14. BM:

    @Rokas

    English has the word “beck” (from the same source, Old Norse bekkr).

  15. Carla:

    Mums!
    Means ‘yummy’ in Swedish, and ‘mothers’ in English!

    (Luke… they don’t really use the “sin” pronoun? They definitely use “slut rea” … it was in all the shop windows last time I was over there….. ‘final sale’ …. not a girl called Rea who has questionable behaviour)

  16. Darlene:

    So what is Juleskum, anyway?

  17. BM:

    Juleskum is like marshmallow sweets in Christmas-related shapes, usually Saint Nick.

  18. jennie:

    The list is getting longer, thank you and keep it coming!

    @Darlene: Juleskum is so tasty! The word comes from “Jul” (christmas) and “skum” meaning foam (beware with that word though, it also means wierd or suspiciuos).
    Christmasfoam. That’s what I stuff my face with today!

  19. Rokas:

    Another example:

    misstänka – to suspect

    miss- has to do with sth wrong or being done wrong (this goes for German as well, misslingen for example) so one would expect misstänka to mean something like misunderstand or to think in a wrong way. Why would it completely change the meaning to suspect?

  20. Carla:

    bad
    – can be the verb “to ask”, or the noun for “beach” in Swedish

    hit
    – means “here” in Swedish