Linguistic traps can be embarrassing and horrific, depending on the guffaw. It could result in more than embarrassment over using the wrong verb when using a language other than your first one. This interesting information came to us from JSTOR Daily in their article, “Friend or Faux? The Linguistic Trickery of False Friends.”

Call it semantic treachery. When learning a language, you desperately reach out for the friendly familiarity of a similar sounding word in that language, but the words may not always mean what you assume from their sound and even appearance. These are called “false friends”: those confusing words that appear or sound identical or similar to words in their own language, yet have different meanings or senses.

An example would be the etymologically unrelated Italian “burro” (butter) and Spanish “burro” (donkey). Asking someone if they could “ride their butter” or “have some donkey for their bread” can leave both participants in the conversation frustrated or amused.

Melody K. Smith

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