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Monday, January 19, 2015

False Cognates & False Friends (vocabulary building)

Today's post is a cautionary note about words that look similar, but have different meanings.

The first mistake we had several times in class last week was complex misunderstanding of a task 5 conversation between two students.

  1. The woman planned to see her boyfriend's concert.
  2. Some students translated plan to 予約.
  3. They then translated 予約 to appointment.
  4. They then tried to use the verb appoint instead of the noun appointment, like "The woman appointed her boyfriend to a concert."

So instead of 彼女は彼氏のコンサートに行く予定がある they said 彼女は彼氏をコンサートに指名しました。

How does this happen?

False friends is the term we use for words that started out as related words, but the meanings have diverged over time. Both appoint and appointment come from the Old French word apointier, which means "to arrange." However, the meanings in modern English have diverged:

  • To appoint is 指名する.
  • An appointment is a plan to meet someone, usually a professional, like a doctor, dentist, accountant, or CPA.
What these students should have said is: "She plans to see her boyfriend's concert."

The second mistake we had last week was with the noun present (a gift) and the verb to present (to put before someone). Someone said, "I presented my wife a pink bikini."

Both the noun and the verb come from the Medieval Latin praesentare, which means to show something to someone for approval. The meanings diverged in Old French, and are still separate in Modern English:
  • The noun a present simply means "a gift." 
  • The verb to present means "to show." 
The correct usage for the verb is a talk show host saying "I now present to you Lady Gaga!" Followed by Lady Gaga singing a song live on TV.

What the speaker meant was "I gave my wife a pink bikini."