Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Danger of False Cognates


You probably have heard that the Spanish word "embarazada" does not mean "embarrassed," but "pregnant." This is an example of what is known as a false cognate. A true cognate would be, for example, "el grupo" which means "group." While we're in the process of learning to speak or write another language, cognates are helpful for us when we get stuck and have to guess a word. We should still make those sorts of educated guesses, but be aware that there are a few words that sound like one thing in English and mean another.

We're not the only ones with that dilemma. Spanish speakers have the same difficulty when they try to use English. The hand soap in the picture is a perfect example. The Spanish word "sanidad" does not mean "sanity" but "health," but the company in question must have been confused, or assumed that the consumer wouldn't care, when they named this hand soap "Sanity Plus." I milked this for all it was worth and would ask if using this soap would help me keep my sanity. For the record, "sanity" would be loosely translated into Spanish as "salud mental," or mental health.

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