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False friends in the Spanish language

False friends in the Spanish language

“False friends” – for those unfamiliar with the term, here’s a quick intro. The term “false friends” refers to a word which exists in two languages, but has two different meanings. This causes some confusion when used incorrectly both with the locals and the visitors.

I’ve jotted down just a few words that could be quite troublesome, and might also be good for a laugh. Some of these words are actually from my own personal experience so I hope that you´ll find these useful for next time you talk to one of your Spanish friends. 

  • Avocado – Abogado

I’ve got to admit that I´ve made this mistake several times: asking for an avocado, and soon having a lawyer standing next to me. Abogado means lawyer, while avocado in Spanish is “un aguacate”. It’s an easy error to make, most will understand it though!

  • Constipated – Constipado

This was actually the first mistake I made in the Spanish language, which made me laugh tremendously. I had a colleague who informed me that she was constipated. While I was honored with this confidence, it turns out that being constipated in Spanish means that you have a cold (constipado), not that you’re “constipated”, as we know the term in the English language.

  •  Embarrassed – Embarazada

Next time when you are with friends and you say something embarrassing, please don’t say “estoy embarazada”, because you´ll be even more embarrassed than before. It actually means that you’re pregnant. The correct word to use for embarrassment is “avergonzado”. I hope this will save you from an embarrassing moment.  

·       Billion – Billón

You probably won’t use this word a lot, unless you´re Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, but bragging in Spain about having a billion euros might be confusing for the Spanish. Actually, a billion in Spanish is “un mil milliones”, which literally translated is one thousand million. When you’re talking about “un billón”, you are talking about a trillion euros. So, keep filling that piggy bank and maybe you can even say in Spanish that you are “un billonario” in a few years.

  • Excited – Excitado                                                                                                  This is a word you have to watch. Never say at an event when talking to a girl that “estoy muy excitado estar contigo”. This means that you´re very aroused by her. The correct word is another false friend – you would say “emocionado”. This doesn’t mean you´re very emotional but literally to be excited. 
  • Card / Menu – Carta / Menú

Another personal word that took me a while to get the hang of is “carta”, which is not  a “card” as one would assume.  When referring to a credit card or a postcard in Spanish, one would use the word “tarjeta”. The word “carta” however, could be a letter, a playing card, or a chart. When you ask for the menu in a restaurant -use “menu”, “Me traes el menu?”  Some restaurants have a daily set menu “Menú del día”. If you want to see the menu to choose your own food, then commonly we say- “la carta”.  

Molest – Molestar

This one is not funny in legitimacy, but it is as a flast friend. It’s also quite important. Despite the obviousness here, it’s NOT Moleste – I would recommend NOT saying, that you’ve been molested. This term as we know it, in Spanish, is “violado”, the same as in English meaning to violate.
“Estoy molesta”, in fact, means that  one is upset or offended, or literally – bothered.
Just be careful which one you use.
To finish off with this theme, when you see the word rape (proncounced “rapE” in Spanish, it actually refers to a fish. 

There are a few words that you write the same in English and Spanish, but they mean something completely different. 

  • Pie isn’t a dessert, but means foot. Plural would be pies.
  • Pan, is not something you cook in but means bread. 
  • Once, is not one time, but is the number eleven. 
  • Dice are not the ones you use in a casino, but is to say.
  • Liar doesn’t mean not saying the truth. In Spanish this word can have many meanings: wrap an object, roll a cigarette, to mishandle or mismanage a situation, or when you have a relationship that is not very serious, you would say “Estoy liado con ella”, literally, “I’m hooked up with her”.  

Getting toward the end here, let’s have a look at the Spanish menu. Before you take out your translator, these are some dishes you might find on a menu that commonly cause confusion. 

Ropa vieja – This dish is usually made from meat that is leftover from a “Cocido” where meat is cooked and served in large portions. The excess meat is shredded and fried, and served with paprika and chickpeas. Just to be clear, with leftovers I mean that the meat that hadn’t been served to the customers, not what was left over on the plate. 

When iberico is mentioned on a menu it always refers to the pig, and four parts tend to have pieces of fat which  give the meat a special flavor. Pluma / Lagrima / Secreto / Lartigo de iberico – Translated this would be Iberian feather, tear, secret, or lizard respectively and refer to the different parts of the animal. Don´t worry though, as there isn’t any secret, crying, feathered lizard walking around the Iberian Peninsula. 

Dorado / Rosada a la plancha – These two words are actually colors with dorado meaning golden and rosado referring to the color pink. This might not only be confusing to you, but also for the Google Translator. I´ve seen many menus which had the English version translating this as the Golden Iron or the Pink Iron, since the Spanish word “plancha” can either mean grilled or the household iron for ironing out wrinkles. 

Dorado and rosado are actually two types of fish, with the dorado not having a translation in English, and the rosado is a fish called pink cusk-eel in English. 

 I hope this will save you from some embarrassing moments by not confusing one word with the other.  Although they can result in unforgettable laughs.

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