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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.Photo: CHRISTIN LOLA/SHUTTERSTOCK

1. Brat

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!

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2. Fart

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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3. Gift

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!

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4. Crap

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.

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5. Mist

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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6. Kiss

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.

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7. Barf

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?

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8. Cookie

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.

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9. Salsa

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 abovePhoto: PAULO VILELA/SHUTTERSTOCK

10. Peach

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.

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11. Preservative

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.

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12. Bra

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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13. Smoking

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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14. 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.

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15. Face

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

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16. LOL

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.

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17. Air

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.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest