False friends

We translators and interpreters are good friends with words. This friendship helps us every day to convey messages correctly to others. When we translate documents for you, and when we do all the interpreting for your events, we rely on this friendship.

But, as in all friendships, we sometimes forget that we can run into words that, because of their unfriendly attitude, turn messages from one language into something else entirely in another language, for the simple fact that they successfully pretend to want to help us. These truly malicious words are what, in our profession, we call ‘false friends’.

As in any friendly relationship, when we meet them, we need to be careful, recognise them and actively avoid them, although we can sometimes fall into their trap if we are tired or our attention slips.

In this article, we will therefore explore how we can recognise the false friends who seem to jump to the translator’s or the interpreter’s aid, and in fact only succeed in messing things up.

And we’ll also look at some strategies to help us avoid them, in order to have healthy and authentic… relationships with all words.

Signs of false friends

There are a few distinct signs that can help us identify false friends. Here are some of them:

Hypocrisy and two-faced behaviour

False friends only show their true face when they slip casually into a statement.

For example, you can quickly get to the front page of the FALSE FRIENDS pamphlet, in the article “Funny translators”, an absolutely painful satire. You can’t find the magazine in shops or bookshops, but you can try libraries or specialised blogs.

Just to make clear which are the misleading words we’re talking about, here they are, with names and correspondents, shame on them:

pamflet (RO) = satire (EN)
pamphlet (EN) = broșură (RO)

magazin (RO) = shop (EN)
magazine (EN) = revistă (RO)

librărie (RO) = bookshop (EN)
library (EN) = bibliotecă (RO)

Lack of loyalty

True friends should be there for you at all times, good and bad. False friends, however, will desert or betray you when things get tough.

For example, you find yourself in the desert when you get to the dessert. Such a jerk of a friend won’t leave you empty, but they’ll simply desert you when you need them most. Better treat yourself with a dessert, so you won’t feel so miserable.

Here are the masters of diversion, in all their glory:

deșert (RO) = desert (EN)
dessert (EN) = desert (RO)

a deșerta (RO) = to empty (EN)
to desert (EN) = a dezerta (RO)

mizerabil (RO) = jerk (EN)
miserable (EN) = nefericit (RO)

Pure self-interest

False friends will show their true character when they need something from you. Once they get their benefit, they will show you indifference and move on.

For example, if you’re the vessel into which they pour their anger, it’s your own fault for allowing them to make you the recipient of all their frustrations. The same goes for when they pull out all sorts of antique antics just to annoy you.

There they are:

recipient (RO) – vessel (EN)
recipient (EN) = destinatar (RO)

antic (RO) – antique (EN)
antic (EN) = glumiță (RO)

Now that you know a little about how the enemies of translation and interpreting manifest themselves, well hidden under the mask of friendship, you may be wondering how to avoid them.

Well, there is only one answer here. As in life, experience helps.

Take notes, use the words, always look them up in the dictionary and take your time. And remember, mistakes can slip into anyone’s work, even when they have many years of working experience. And mistakes are not catastrophes, but opportunities that teach us how to become better.

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