When I am learning a new language, there is always a learning curve associated with a certain level of humor. How the new language sounds, especially when I pronounce things incorrectly and say things the wrong way provides my husband with hours of his own personal comedy show. Learning the new language is funny unto itself with all of the unusual pronunciations and new ways of expression but imagine how funny it would be to see words that you have used your entire life being used another way and with a completely different definition. Apparently these words are called “false friends” and they are quite entertaining. One of the first of these I discovered while walking around Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden where my husband comes from. It was a sign for a speed bump, or “Farthinder.” Fart in Swedish means speed. I had endless fun laughing every time we passed that sign. Every single time. You would have thought I was an eight year old.
However I am not the only one who has had fun with these false friends. When my husband first moved to the United States he drove past a billboard for a Pitt Barbeque restaurant. Imagine his shock, the word “pitt” in Swedish means penis, only the slang, vulgar version, which I will not write here. I am sure he drove with any Swedish visitors he had past that billboard. Some of the best things in life are free.
We had some friends from Texas visit us in Stockholm last summer and I guess I have lived here long enough now that I don’t take particular notice of these false friends anymore. One of them saw a sign for a “slut rea,” which means literally “end sale.” It is basically an end of season sale, or final sale. Slut is not even pronounced the same here. It is pronounced like “boot.” But that doesn’t change the sheer joy one feels when one discovers these anomalies.
The word for child in Swedish is barn. Grandchild is barnbarn. I don’t even know if it is acceptable in written form such as this to use “LOL,” which means laugh out loud, but I thought this was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard. How many barn do you have? That’s another funny thing. Whether you have one barn or two barn, it is the same word. No plural form.
There are several words for “good” in Swedish and they are “false friends” to their English twins. Two that are particularly peculiar are “god” and “bra.” “God” is used to describe something that tastes good or when wishing someone Merry Christmas one says, “God Jul.” “Bra” is more of a description, like when something is good or someone has done something good. The kind of bra you wear in Sweden is called a BH, short for bröst hållare, or in English breast holder. Lol.
Another one that was difficult for me to accept was the word for vacation. “Semester” is what the Swedes take when they go on vacation. When I started studying Swedish I would ask my classmates what they planned to take next “semester,” me meaning next term in school. They just looked at me confused. They had no clue what I meant. I have to say however that one of the funniest for me is “kiss,” which is the word for urine here. But again, it is pronounced more like fleas but with a short s at the end.
What I find unusual and confusing about these “false friends” is that many of them are not even the same type of word. Some are nouns and some are verbs, which further confuses a person new to the language. Just for laughs I am including a list below with a few more of these crazy, “false friends” for you to mull around in your heads:
English/Swedish word - Swedish meaning
Offer - victim
Sex - six
Men - but
Runt - around
Ask - box
Be - beg/pray
Gift - poison/married
Spy - vomit
Tall - pine