Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ten Dangerous Cognates

Some words in the course of history, while retaining a similar spelling, diverge in meaning from related languages. For these lexical black sheep the French coined false amies, “false friends.” Deception, for example, has the Spanish counterpart decepción, both deriving from the Latin decipere, “to deceive,” but in Spanish it denotes disappointment.

Here are the top ten false friends, falsos amigos:
  1. Molestar has nothing to do with the predatory act of molestation. Molestar is to bother, to annoy. It is often used in the expressions no molestes, no me molestes, “don’t bother, leave me alone.”
  2. Divertir is not to divert but to entertain. Divert is desviar.
  3. Publicidad is not free publicity, it is paid advertisement.
  4. Agresivo, as in una ejecutiva agresiva is not an aggressive businesswoman but one who, unable to take no for an answer, gives clients a beating. Un hombre agresivo con las mujeres is not the gregarious player who charms ladies impetuously, but a ruffian who batters them. Aggressive is emprendedor, audaz, dinámico.
  5. Embarazada is not embarrassed but pregnant. Embarrassed is avergonzada. During an official visit to Mexico, an American President claimed to be muy embarazado por no hablar español, “very pregnant for not speaking Spanish,” prompting an anonymous diplomat to send him a pink teddy bear, un osito de peluche rosado.
  6. Introducir shares with the English verb “to introduce” the sense of bringing in and beginning, as in Colón introdujo el tabaco en Europa, “Columbus introduced tobacco in Europe.” It is not used, however, to introduce people. Pedro le introduce a María, for example, has vulgar sexual overtones, as introducir also means to penetrate. The verb presentar is used to introduce people, as in Pedro le presenta a María, “Pedro introduces María to him/her.”
  7. Pretender has nothing to do with facking, it means trying, as in Julia pretende asistir a Harvard, “Julia is trying to go to Harvard.” To pretend is fingir.
  8. Destituido is not destitute, but removed from office, as in el presidente corrupto fue destituido por el congreso, “the corrupt President was removed from office by Congress.” Destitute, the state of extreme poverty, is indigente, as in los ex presidentes corruptos rara vez son indigentes, “former corrupt presidents are seldom destitute.”
  9. Once is eleven. Once, as in the song, for once in my life, is una vez, as in the song, solamente una vez, amé en la vida, solamente una vez, y nada más, “only once I loved, only once and never again.”
  10. Capable is spelled exactly as the adjective of aptitude capable, but it denotes a propensity or a state of readiness to be castrated. Capable is capaz.
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