15 French ‘false friends’ you need to watch out for
When struggling for the right word in French, it can be tempting just to use an English word said in a French accent. Unfortunately, French is littered with pesky “false friends” that have very different meanings. Here’s 15 to avoid.
Ask for the “librairie” in France and you’ll be directed to a bookshop rather than a library (bibliothèque), for example. But others can result in ridicule or embarrassment. Anyone who has been in France for any amount of time will be familiar with the most famous of these: “a préservatif” not being something you would add to food to make it keep longer (conservateur in French), but in fact a condom.
But there are plenty more of these false friends you’ll want to avoid so you don’t embarrass yourself or your French guests.
1. Excited / Excité
You want to tell your French friend you’re very excited to come visit them in Paris this summer. “Excité” sounds like the word you should use, right? Unfortunately not. You just told your friend you were “aroused”, probably not what you were going for. Enthusiaste is better.
2. Trainee / Traînée
A particular one to be aware of for anyone working in France. If you’re just starting a new job, don’t try introducing yourself as a “trainee” said in a French-sounding sort of way and hope your new colleagues understand, it sounds very similar to the French word “traînée”, which can mean a smear or trail or, much worse still, a woman of an extremely promiscuous nature. “Stagiaire” is the right word.
3. Chat / Chatte
A pitfall for anyone who knows ‘ch’ in French is pronounced the way and English speaker would say ‘sh’, but is still lacking in vocabulary. The verb to chat – ie, have a light conversation with someone – in French is bavarder. But chat pronounced with an ‘sh’ sound in the beginning can mean ‘cat’ or, if you pronounce it with a hard T at the end, slang for a woman’s private parts (chatte in French).
4. Apology / Apologie
So you’ve accidentally let out a loud burp at a French dinner party. Cringing of embarrassment, you quickly let out an “apologie”. The only trouble is that in French, you’ve just told them that you “condone” or “justify” such table manners. “Pardon” and “excusez-moi” are both polite apologies to use.
5. Bless / Blesser
The verbs have quite opposite meaning. While a well-meaning English-speaker might feel the temptation to throw out a “blessez-vous” when someone sneezes, try not to. In French, the verb “blesser” translates into “injure”. The expression to use here is: “à vos souhaits”.
6. Chair/ Chair
Looking for a chair at a party? Use the term “chaise”. “Chair” in French means flesh and you might get some weird looks if you tell the party hosts that you’re looking for some.
7. Slip/ Slip
This one could easily get your knickers in a knot. Especially since “slip” in French translates into “men’s briefs”. If you’ve had a slip and you want to tell your French friends about it, better to use the verb “glisser”.
8. Pill/ piles
You have a brutal headache and you head to the local pharmacy in search for pills to cure you. To the French, it will sound as if you’re asking for “piles”, or batteries. To avoid confusion (and to make sure you get rid of your headache), better to ask for brands like Aspirine or Doliprane.
9. Air Con/ l’air con
No, no matter how much of a French accent you put on in pronouncing this one, it is a deceitful ‘false friend’ that could land you in hot water. It would be hard to offend a French person more than telling them they have “l’air con”. In the ears of a French person, you’ve just told him or her that they’re “stupid”.
Identical, right? Not so. “Sensible” means “sensitive” in French and it’s probably not the best word to use when describing yourself in a job interview. Try “raisonnable” instead.
Don’t be surprised if, after asking your neighbour to lend you a “blanquette”, he or she turns up on your doorstep with a ready-cooked meal. “Blanquette” is a much-loved veal stew ( Blanquette de veau) which has little to do with keeping you warm at night. But “une couverture” will help you cover up.
This is a tough one, because although the word can have the same meaning in French as it has in English, it is often used to express just the opposite, i.e. that something is “great”. And it all depends on your tone of voice. You safest bet to convey that something is terrible in the Anglo-saxon sense of the word is to use the word “horrible”.
13. Tongue/ Tong(s)
This false friend will hardly get you into any trouble, but it sure could cause some confusion with almost any French listener who might wonder where exactly this conversation is going. Tongue will most likely sound like “tongs” (pronounced with a silent s) which means thongs, or flip-flops. If you want to stick to discussing your tongue, say “langue”.
14. Introduce/ s’Introduire:
As if an introduction in France wasn’t a fraught experience already, one of the most two-faced of ‘false friends’ in French is the verb “s’introduire”. Naturally, you would think it means ‘to introduce’. It actually means to penetrate, insert or enter. So next time you meet a group of French people and you want to suggest you should all introduce each other”, the verb you’re looking for is “se présenter”.
This one is particularly nasty because even though “de luxe” means luxury, as you would imagine, if you want to say “luxurious” don’t try to say it with a French accent, because it will probably come out as “luxurieux” which means “lustful”. If you want to say “you went to a luxurious hotel at the weekend” your French guests might start thinking you spent the last few days in the company of DSK.
Source/Credit: The Local