False Friends

False friends are an ever present danger to the translator (see John Bowden’s warning).

See also German is Easy Blog.

Here are some to watch out for.

abstrus: sounds like abstruse, but it seems to me that the German word conveys something like “fanciful” or “absurd”, whereas the English word moves in the direction of “obscure”, “difficult to understand”, “complex”, so that while there may be some overlap in meaning, the German will often convey a different nuance than the English.

aktuell: sounds like “actual” but it means present, current, latest etc. (see here).

Aktualisierung seems like this would mean “actualizing” but the sense is probably better captured with “updating” or “upgrading”, i.e. this seems related to aktuell, so that the meaning relates to making current, updating, or upgrading rather than actualizing in the sense of realizing (see here).

Art: looks like “art” but it means something like “kind/sort/type”

auch wenn – seems like it should be “even if” (which is sometimes correct), but “even though” is often the correct word choice.

aufstehen/aufstand: seems like it would be “stood up” but it means “got up”, “rose”.

bedeutungsschweren: “fraught with meaning” is perhaps a good solution.

dezent: subtle, subdued, quiet, understated, discreet, unostentatious (decent seems to be a false friend).

Differenz: “differences” is probably better than “difference”, at least in some cases. In short, the plural might be better in some cases, since Differenz can be used like Verschiedenheit, i.e. to speak of the fact of being different, which is expressed by many differences. Indeed, “Differenz” and “difference”  could even count as false friend in a certain sense…

Dramatik: drama seems to be something of a false friend; “dramatic tension” seems to capture the meaning; see here.

eventuell = “perhaps, maybe” NOT eventually. See German is Easy Blog.

fortgehen: = “go away” or “depart” (“go forth” is a false friend)

qualifizieren: while this word can mean “qualify”, it is often better translated with “characterize”.

Hier: you would think that “here” would be the best translation, but strangely enough “there” is often the correct translation.

kommen in Frage: seems like “comes into question” would work, but it is likely to convey the wrong impression. Instead “comes into consideration” is probably better. In some contexts “is relevant” might work.

köstlich = delicious NOT costly/expensive (this would be teuer or perhaps kostbar).

Mahlzeit: seems like it should mean “mealtime” but it just means “meal” (Essenszeit is the correct word for mealtime).

Moment – der Moment seems to mean “moment” but das Moment seems to mean something like “factor” or “circumstance” or “aspect” or “element”. See here.

Pointe: point may or may not be a false friend. It sort of works but doesn’t really capture the full force of the German word. The problem is that there is no obvious alternative in most cases. See here and here.  So even though it is not a great solution, I still often use “point”.

Prägnant = catchy, memorable, succinct NOT pregnant. See German is Easy Blog.

Satz: seems like it should be sentence, but in some compounds (e.g. Hauptsatz) it needs to translated with “clause”.

sensibel” = “sensitive” NOT “sensible”.

suspendieren: suspend might be a false friend in so far as the force of the German can be stronger, i.e. “annul” rather than merely “suspend”.

die Taste: looks like “taste” but it means “the key” (see here)

2 thoughts on “False Friends

  1. Although it is not likely to be an issue for translation of biblical studies texts, my favourite false friend is köstlich which means delicious or delightful, not costly, expensive. The word I am actually looking for is teuer – and in Australian English, this isn’t too difficult, because I would also describe something expensive as ‘dear’, but I have to stop and think which of the pair is the false friend and which is the true one.🙂

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