It might seem strange that one can make a list of his most favorite false friends. But what I am referring to are words (in English and German), which sound to similar to consider that in fact they mean something completely different.
I had to think about them while listening to the radio news yesterday. They reported about a press conference president Obama gave on August 5th, explaining his view on the recent nuclear agreement with Iran. This is what Barack Obama said:
"...And by the way, nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet..."
The German reporter translated it as following:
"...Übrigens kann man radioactives material nicht in der Klo-Schüssel verstecken..."
what literally means
"...And by the way, radioactive material isn’t something you hide in the lavatory..."
Even if we accept the sloppy confusion of "nuclear material" with "radioactive material", the difference of both not even Obama himself is perhaps aware off, the translation of closet (in american english a small room, usually for redressing and storing closes in) to the German equivalent of lavatory is really violating the meaning of the speech. Wheras the lavatory is indeed a suitable room to hide a gun, or a lover , or dead corpse in, radioactive o nuclear material is better stored in the closet, since this in this dry atmosphere one does not has to worry about corrosion of the uranium or thorium.
The lavatory is unsuitable to store radioactive material also for another reason. In particular after one has taken a shower or a hot bath, and in cases of insufficient ventilation, the air in that room can quickly become over-saturated with humidity. And what happens than can be nicely seen in a cloud chamber in a radiation physics lab: Radiation produces beautiful, large tracks of foggy appearance. And this beautiful tinny clouds would immediately reveal the hidden stuff to an investigator. This would even be cool idea for a Monthy Python sketch: The IAEA inspectors come to Ali Chameneis house to discuss which sites in Iran to visit. One of the inspectors asks politely of he can use the rest room, but Ali Chameneis wife is still in, taking a hot shower. After 10 minutes she leaves the rest room, and - wrapped just in a stars-and-stripes towel - tell the foreign guest that he can enter now. As soon as he goes in the humidity saturated room and switches on the light, he sees this:
|Cloud chamber showing different tracks of radioactive decay products from air-borne Radon, cosmic and terrestrial radiation. The video is in real time, in a dark room with indirect illumination (from reddit.com)|
But now back to the initial subject of False Friends (At least for now, I don't want to refer to Ali Chamenei). When native Germans learn English, there are more cases when (as in the case of closet and lavatory) one is prompted to use a easy-looking translation. And here comes the list of the most prominent ones:
|ENGLISH WORD||Assumed German Meaning (wrong)||confused with the German word:|
|to realize s.th.||to implement||etw. realisieren|
|public viewing||open-air transmission||Public Viewing|
|hose||pair of trousers||Hose|
|to rock s.o.||to stone s.o.||j.m. steinigen|
|to please s.o.||to ask somebody a favor||bitten|
Just to avoid the accusation that I try to make fun on the expense of a single nation: I have to admit that some of the worst (and most resilient) False Friends I heard from non-German speakers. A colleage of mine from an Eastern-European country always says "a Probe", if in fact he refers to "a Sample". The reason is perhaps that both in German and in slavic languages a sample is called "eine Probe", whereas a probe should be precisely translated as "eine Sonde".
Also Indians natives (despite they grew up with a sort of English) are not free from using wrong words or phrases again and again. One PhD student, if he wants to ask a question, always say "I have a doubt: .....". Another PhD student girl finishes every sentence in her scientific presentations with the phrase "... or something like this". Thats sounds really, really weired in science. Can you imagine that Albert Einstein talks about the "... with increasing velocity the mass of an object goes up, with a factor of the inverse square root of (1-v2/c2), OR SOMETHING LIKE THIS.