(By Ray D.)
During my three years as an English instructor in Germany, one of the most important concepts that I taught was that of "false friends." And I wasn't talking about the friends who gossip behind your back or never pay back the money they owe you. I was talking about false friends in the German and English languages.
So what are these false friends? False friends are words that have an identical or highly similar pronounciation in two different languages. Many times, the words also have identical or highly similar spellings as well.
Here are some classic German-English false friends:
Chef: In German, your "Chef" is your boss, not a cook.
Gymnasium: In German, this is a sort of high-level German high-school, not a sports gym.
Handy: This is what most Germans call cell-phones.
Gift: Careful! This word means poison in German. There is a small store called "Das Gift Haus" in Gettysburg, PA that never failes to draw a laugh from German-speakers.
Lohn: Pronounced like the word "loan", this is the German word for salary or wages.
Mist: This word means dung, manure or simply "crap!"
sensibel: This word means "sensitive" in German. "Vernünftig" is the German word for the English "sensible."
Politics: "Liberal" is a German-English False Friend
Some of our readers who have not yet learned German may wonder why so many German blogs on our German-language blogroll have the word "liberal" somewhere in their titles. After all, Davids Medienkritik is not exactly the biggest fan of left-wing politics. Well, the reason is that "Liberal" has a completely different meaning in the German language when used in a political sense.
In German, "liberal", when used on its own, is typically a word used to describe someone who favors smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation and less bureaucracy. The German "Liberale" also typically favor free-markets, free-trade and personal, private initiative. In other words, "liberal" in German is almost the exact opposite of "liberal" in (North-American) English when used in a political sense.
The German "Liberale" typically identify most closely with the FDP or the German Free-Democratic Party. The FDP also specifically refers to itself as the party of the "Liberale" and favors lower taxes, less regulation and a smaller government. The FDP's website even has the address: "http://www.liberale.de"
So the next time you hear someone mention the word "liberal" in a discussion of German-American politics, make sure you clarify exactly what sort of "liberal" they are talking about. Otherwise, confusion is likely to be the end result.