False Friends

I suppose, with a title like that, I’m supposed to start this post with some juicy sentence like, “This past year, I’ve figured out who my true friends are,” but I get so lonely here, I simply don’t have the luxury of weeding out friends at the moment.

Also, I’m not fourteen.  And I like my friends.

This title, of course, is referring to false friends of the linguistic sort, those backstabbing, two-faced, lying son-uffa-gun words that seem like they would have the same meaning in both German and English.  And there are so dang many cognates and loanwords between the two languages, seeing as English stems largely from Germanic roots, and more recently, English thought it would return the favor and stage a mass takeover of the German language, for which Germans everywhere are quite welcome.  You hear it everywhere: Outdoor-Event, To-do List, Inlineskaten, Wanderlust, Wiener. In some ways, German can almost be comical to the English ear, like it’s almost-but-not-quite English.  “Komm hier” sounds nearly identical to its English counterpart, “come here.”  You don’t need me around to tell you that “Die Familie singt und das Baby trinkt Milch” is “The family sings and the baby drinks milk,” although das Baby could also have  had Alkohol, Bier, or Wein without losing a single English-speaker among us, although it may have lost the MADD members among us.

But then, there’s the other words.  The words that lure you in with their dashing good looks and their debonair charm, only to dash your hopes of establishing a fulfilling and long-term relationship when they turn out to be a total jerk.  Words like handy.  Seems innocent enough, right?  Handy, like, he’s good with his hands, a handyman!  But something went horribly wrong when that word found its way into German: Handy, auf Deutsch, is cell phone.  Drat.

So then I wrote a poem (which can be a Lyric, whereas “lyrics,” unfortunately, are “Liedtexte.” But “text” is “Text,” so I guess that makes up for it.):

A friend is a Freund; German’s a breeze
‘Til you realize your friends are masked enemies.

Backen is bakin’ and kochen is cookin’,
But Chef is boss, and snack is Happen.

A Herd‘s not a herd; instead it’s a stove,
Although herd is Herde; I know, I know.

An Oldtimer‘s not grandpa, it’s just an old car
And wide is breit while weit is far.

Gymnasium is high school, that one’s a doozy
And receipt and Rezept are nothing but floozies.

And so what is the moral of this too-tragic tale?
Gift is not a present, but poison; farewell.

Wah-waaah.  Any favorite false friends of your own, all you polyglots out there?  Or, alternatively, any public shaming you want to do of the actual false friends in your life?  Leave it in the comments; that’s totally appropriate.


9 responses to “False Friends

  1. Lori, you never cease to amaze me with your posts. 🙂 I’m glad we were at the same orientation.

  2. Very clever, excellent read!

  3. oh my gosh. this was the best blog ever. reading about Inlineskaten reminds me of freshman year and schwimmin. i love you and your bilingual poetry skills.

    • Oh Noel, you better believe that that inlineskaten reference was basically a shout-out to you. I’m pretty sure at one point you called German “lazy English.” …should I be concerned that I still miss living with you?

  4. Oh, Grant and Martha would be so proud of you, because you really do have a way with words.

    • Ha, you have no idea how many times I’ve had the urge to call them this year… only to realize that my internet is incapable of handling that. My apartment would be a sad and lonely place indeed without that podcast.

  5. being able to write a poem in two languages at once is the sign of a true master.

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