18 September 2008

Faux Amis Friday

Welcome to the latest issue of Duckrabbit in Jerusalem, the blog where we wonder what's going on with רוני, who is Just Too Busy To Tell Us! Today's episode is about faux amis, and it goes out to everyone who's been putting up with my unresponsiveness to emails, facebook messages and wall posts. Soon I'll move to an apartment with internet, and things will be better! Until then... faux amis.

Faux amis means "false friends" in French. That's what I hope people don't conclude about me when I exercise poor internet ettiquette! Heh. Faux amis also means "words in different languages that sound like they should have the same meaning, but don't." Second-language learners find faux amis everywhere. They help us stay awake during language classes.

Hebrew and Engish have a surprisingly long chain of faux amis threaded through the pronouns. An American rabbi wrote a cutesy Abbott-and-Costello tribute about it:
Abbott: הוא is he.
Costello: Who is he?
Abbott: Precisely.
Until someone pointed those out to me, I never noticed them, and I still don't think they sound that much alike. Anyway, there are a lot of crazier faux amis for advanced Hebrew-learners to giggle about in Ulpan. Ahem:
  • Nylons (ניילטנים) are the plastic bags you get from the grocery store.
  • Purée (פירה) is mashed potatoes.
  • Bagel (בייגלה) means bagel, but it also means pretzel.
  • Philadelphia (פילדלפיה) means Philadelphia, but it's also the generic name for cream cheese.
  • A trapeze (טרפז) is a trapezoid.
  • An American exam (מבחן אמריקני) is a multiple-choice test.
  • A close (קלוז) is a fill-in-the-blank exercise.
  • Your lose (לו"ז) is your schedule.
  • A sniff (סניף) is an outlet of a business.
  • A filipina (פיליפינה) may be someone from the Phillipines, or she might just be anyone whose job it is to take care of old people. [!עיין ערך גיזאנות]
  • Sponge (ספונג'ה) is the name of the job where you clean other people's houses.
  • Mommy (מאמי) and boobie (בובי) are terms of endearment.
  • The vestigal structure attached to the end of your colon is called your appendicitis (אפנדציטיס). If it gets infected, you have appendetzit (אפנדציט).
  • Sylvester (סילבסטר) is the name of the holiday you celebrate on December 31st. ("New Year's Eve" is the name of the holiday we'll celebrate on September 29th.)
And finally...
  • Rashomon (רשומון) is the name of an important Japanese movie, but it's also the Hebrew word for "blog."
I've collected some more, too, but
From Jerusalem, Israel, I'm Duckrabbit and this has been Faux Amis Friday. Come back next week for reduplicative onomotopoetics! (And possibly news from my exciting life?) Same bat time, same bat rashomon.


  1. Well, many of these are not true "sound-alikes", but rather just English words that are given a different meaning in Hebrew.

    Sponja, btw, is not "cleaning other people's houses", but rather "washing the floor" (you can do it in your own house too ;-)). It is a specific "technique" of floor-washing that involves a lot of water spilled on the floor, and then collected with a squeegee-like thingy. It is a very Israeli way of floor washing, and I heard of some Israelis trying it in the US on hardwood floors with pretty disastrous results...

    Also, appendix is just "appendix" (there is a Hebrew word for it too that hardly anyone uses - "tosaftan"). Those who call it appendicitis are just trying to sound more sophisticated ;-)...

  2. I think Philadelphia being the generic term for cream cheese may be true in a lot of places (it is in Germany, at least)--in the 19th century, we were like the standard for food quality.

    Times have changed.

    I want more faux amis fridays!

  3. "close" (rather, "cloze") is English for a fill-in-the-blank test too.