Wednesday, August 17, 2011


FALSE FRIEND : A word that looks and sounds the same in two languages, but means two different things.

The Chamorro word for "handicapped" or "disabled" is inutit.  When I got older, I figured out it came from the Spanish word "inútil."  That word is derived from útil, where we get our English word utilities, or utilize.  The base word is "use."  To utilize something is to use something.  Inútil, in Spanish, therefore means "useless."

So when I was in California back in the 80s, driving with a Hispanic American, and we saw a disabled man in a wheelchair, and I said, "Mira!  Un inútil!"  my Hispanic friend got upset at me.  I thought I was saying, "Look!  A disabled person!" but to my Hispanic friend I was saying, "Look! A useless person!"  That was something I certainly did not intend to say.

These false friends in the world of languages are very treacherous.

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