False Friends Explained – 1

eventually-eventuell-false-Hello everyone,

and welcome to a brand new mini series. Or should I say YET another mini series… seriously, I feel like, we got quite a few seriesseses here :).
Anyway, the new one is all about

false friends

There are a lot of false friends between German and English and some of them can actually lead to real misunderstandings. So I thought, let’s have a look at some of them every once in a while. But of course we’ll not just check what they mean, what the misunderstanding is and how to avoid it. We’ll also explore WHY they became false friends to begin with – or in other words:

Who screwed up? 

German or English? Who’s the true meaning mangler? Yeah, I hear many are screaming “German”… but who knows. So what do you say… does it sound rad? Great, then let’s roll ;).
And the first pair is…

eventual(ly) – eventuell

This is one pair I got wrong for AGES and I was worried that eventually I would never learn it. But I have, because I just used it correc… oh … oh shit. I screwed it up again. It’s that bad.
And what makes this one particularly tricky is the fact that years can go by without anyone noticing that there’s something lost in translation. I would say things like this:

  • Tomorrow, I eventually have time….  yeah, using the future took me while, too :)

And the other person would be like: “Well, that’s great. I hope I see you tomorrow then.” and we’d walk away not knowing that we just misunderstood each other.
So… what’s the problem? Eventually basically means finally, at long last or sooner or later. It tells us that something WILL happen (or has happened) while at the same time adding the idea of a substantial “waiting period”.
Eventuell on the other hand means maybe, perhaps. It tells us that something MIGHT happen but it is by no means sure of it. And if you’re at a meeting for a difficult project and you try to lift the spirits by saying

… well… that’s not the confidence you need to get promotion.
So… who messed with the meaning? Well, both words are related to the word event. Event comes from the Latin verb evenire which is pretty much to come out (ex + venire) and across all languages that have it an event is something that does happen. Based on that the English eventual(ly) is very logical, right. So did German screw up?
The answer is: no. Both German and English, most likely imported eventual (eventuell) from French. And there the word means pretty much exactly the same as the German eventuell. And in fact also in Spanish and Italian the words mean possibly, maybe. They all go back to a Latin word with the same meaning. And in fact there’s a is a related word for which English has kept the notion of possible.

So technically English is the one to blame for the confusion. But then again… the English meaning makes much more sense and why Latin would give a word that comes from event the meaning maybe remains a mystery.
Cool. Now we’re left with the question what would be a good translation for eventually. But I am afraid there is not a short, pregnant answer for that. There are too many options, sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a phrase, sometimes it’s nothing and it totally depends on context. If you’re interested we can go over some examples in the comments but for now let’s move on to our next false friend…. and in fact… I just fell for it :)

prägnant – pregnant

This pair is certainly not one that is causing a lot of problems simply because the words aren’t used all that much. But it’s kind of funny and a great example for how a language REALLY messed up the meaning. Place your bets on which one it is :).
So, the English pregnant talks about carrying a baby in you,which in German word is schwanger.

The German eventuell on the other hand is something completely different. It means concise, succinct or catchy… something that is short, to the point and that gets people’s attention is prägnant. That can be a sentence, or a presentation but also a melody. Or an example.

And the questions is: how on earth could that happen? Time warp back to ancient Rome. Frrrrruiiiiiiiii…
uh.. that was a time warp sound, just in case you’re wondering….
In Latin there was a word praegnans which literally meant pre-birth, and the second part, gnans, actually belongs to the same family as gene and generic and genisis. So the meaning is Latin was pretty much the same as it is today in English. And that means, German scores because it really messed it up. To be fair though, it’s not the sole culprit. German imported the word from French some 300 years ago. And by that time, the French version had tinkered with the original sense and meant  “filled with thought/meaning” while for  “filled with child” the French had chosen a different word: enceinte... a funny word by the way because the literal idea is “surrounded”.
Anyway, so the word German took over was basically expression the idea that something contains a lot of sense or meaning. And it has’t changed much. Something that is succinct and catchy does convey a lot with a bit, right?
But the whole baby thing on the other hand was never part of the German version.
By the way … I think all Romance languages (at least French, Spanish and Italian) do use a different word for baby-pregnant. So saying this:

  • Je suis pregnante.

in French is about as off as

  • Ich bin prägnant.

in German.
However, some of these meaning changes that occurred in French and German seeped over into English. And that leads us to the wonderful German word  Imprägnierspray. Any idea what that could be? Sure sounds kind of funny with the pregnancy thing in your head. Well, here’s what the spray is used for

I spray something on my shoes to make them waterproof. And here’s where both languages do line up because  to impregnate can mean to make pregnant but also soak something with something (usually for the purpose of having some kind of residue… some proof or coating. You can impregnate wood for example, or spray your shoes to make them water-proof. And that’s pretty much what imprägnieren is, though in German the focus is on the coating, rather than the soaking.
Now you might be like “Wait… this soaking meaning has ZERO to do with anything. Where the hell is that coming from?
Well, the verb impregnate already existed in Latin and it already had that double meaning there. The main meaning was to get someone pregnant but it was also used in a general sense of fill, soak, imbue something, which is where the modern meaning of impregnating shoes comes from.  How the Romans got from one to the other we can but guess … here’s mine.

And with that imagine in our head, let’s wrap this up (get it? because they could use some wrapping too).
This was our look at two pairs of false friends and I really hope you had just as much fun as I had with this. Let me know in the comments, if you did and if we should do more of this every once in a while… mini series style :). And tell me your favorite couple, the one that really confused you.
And of course if you have any questions about today’s words or if you need some examples, just leave me a comment too.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

eventuell – maybe, perhaps
die Eventualität – the contigency, the possible option
schwanger – pregnant
der Schwangerschaftstest – the pregnancy test
die Schwangere – the pregnant woman
der Schwangere – duh!
die Schwangerschaftsstreifen – stretch marks, striae (pregnancy striae)
prägnant – succinct, catchy
dei Prägnanz – the catchy-ness, straight-to-the-point-ness
imprägnieren – impregnate (make water proof)

for members :)

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Antonio

Hi! First of all many thanks for another great post. Just wanted to add that in Italian we have the word “pregno/a”. It refers to something that was filled (like a sponge with water). I also just searched the word “pregno” in the italian dictionary and it also means pregnant: but I never heard this word used with this meaning in my life!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Vielen Dank für Ihren Post.

Joshua
Joshua

Great post! I would never imagine that “prägnant” meant concise.
It’s funny because in Spanish “impregnar” means “to saturate” like “imprägnieren”, and the word for “pregnant”, “embarazada”, is also a false friend because of “embarassed”.

Hamish Moffatt (@hmoffatt)

Nice article, thanks! Another false friend that came up in my German class a few weeks ago was “dezent” versus “decent”..

Jo
Jo

Ah, in English we can also say something is impregnated, meaning saturated. Here’s some online examples: “wood which had been impregnated with preservative”, “Impregnated Yarn & Fabric”, “Ceramic-impregnated fabrics”. So you could say “My shoe leather is impregnated with waterproofing.” Even so, I would recommend against saying “I impregnate my shoes” – you’re going to get funny looks.

Jo
Jo

An afterthought – I don’t think in English impregnate quite means “to proof” or “coat” – although there is overlap in meaning. The sense I have is of some absorbent material being soaked in (or perhaps sprayed with) a liquid (chemical) substance, such that the material is affected by the residue, whether or not it dries. e.g. wood with insecticide, a handkerchief with perfume, cloth with resin, gauze with saline, leather with waterproofing chemicals. So the effect may be to waterproof, or insectproof, etc, but not necessarily – it might be a dye, or scent, or have some other property. And because it soaks in, it may coat the material, but not *only* coat it, that is not usually in the sense of forming a layer/skin (like paint).

Duncan Bay (@djtbay)

Wunderbar!

By the way, I save some of these to pdf (via print -> pdf), but the follow widget (bottom right hand corner of pages) is expanded in print styling and always blocks some of your content. Try print preview and you should see what I mean. I generally go in to developer tools and edit it out for myself – so that’s not an issue – but that doesn’t solve the inherent problem. If you copy & paste the following to your wordpress custom css it should prevent the same from ruining other people’s printing (teachers for classes maybe?).

@media print { #id.loggedout-follow-normal { display: none; } }

If you have any questions feel free to email me or ask a developer friend, should be a 10second fix :)

Duncan Bay (@djtbay)

by email, I guess I meant tweet me ^^

Jo
Jo

I kind of get fixated on definitions, sorry! So I forgot to say, great post! and yes the false friends series is a good idea. :)

Gia
Gia

Holy cow, that finally clarifies for me why we say, “a pregnant pause.” It’s a pause full of (unspoken) meaning! Honestly, I’ve never really questioned it before, but after reading this, I have no idea why I didn’t! Thanks for this post–very helpful!

Krasser Typ
Krasser Typ

“Maria makes a pregnancy test.”
Takes, right? She’s not manufacturing it or something is she?

“die Schwangerschaftsstreifen – striae (pregnacy striae)”
Do you mean stretch marks?

I agree with Jo’s note that “impregnate” means something soaked into something, rather than coated.

I can’t think of any other false friends besides “quasi.” But there’s a good chance I haven’t realized they’re different words yet (I actually just found about about “eventuell” a couple weeks ago.

Beatriz
Beatriz

I like this blog. Just to add, to me it also helps to consider that the German word “praegnant” might share some common root with the English “pragmatism”, which meaning they also share.
On “eventually” I think the meaning in its Latin version makes sense if you have a Mediterranean concept of time. If in Spain you say “I will do it eventually” it is commonly understood as “Maybe, one day, perhaps I will do it” (which in the end might be never) :)

Ruth
Ruth

Am I right to think that schwanger applies only to humans? Any animal that bears live young can be pregnant, even, I think, live bearing sharks and gastric-brooding frogs. …….Perhaps circumstances where English has only one word but German has one for most animals and another for the human ones could be a topic for a future post or two. (Should check that you haven’t already done it.)

Pregnant is now sometimes applied to couples and to fathers. Does the same happen with schwanger (From der Schwangere’s entry in your vocabulary list, it seems not.) or are other expressions used?

Apparently English usage of the meaningful meaning of pregnant is recorded earlier than the incubating young meaning, so English seems to have gone round in a circle. While the German may now seem messed, up at least it was decisive.

NN

Sehr nett.
Ich mag auch ‘fast’ auf Englisch gegen ‘fast’ auf Deutsch.

Jason Harrison
Jason Harrison

This is great! Eventuell caught me out for a while too. It also took me a while to work out aktuell, which I thought never seemed to really fit until I realised it is more along the lines of current/latest.
One I cam across recently was (sich) blamieren, which I thought “must be ‘to blame’ right?” Appears ironically it is not! Hab’ ich mich blamiert?…Actually don’t answer that.

Alberto
Alberto

I’d totally be in for a false friends series. Out the the top of my head I can only think of become/bekommen. By the way, there’s another word for pregnant in spanish besides ’embarazada’, it’s ‘preñada’. Also coming from praegnare, but with the typical gn->ñ change. And it can also mean “including untold meaning”

Félix LeChien
Félix LeChien

Funny! The french word “prégnant” is not commonly used at all, and even its pronounciation is unusual. In fact, in French, “gn” usually sounds like the spanish “ñ”, but not here where both letters are pronounced separately. And according to Le Petit Robert dictionary, “une idée prégnante” is an idea that imposes itself to the mind. French is quite close to German on this one!

Keep up the good work. This blog is awesome!

Carlo Toribio

Hi Emanuel. Thanks for your post. I haven’t finished reading, but I saw something that really caught my eye. Spanish and English are both my first languages (geography had a lot to do with that), and “Eventually” and “Eventualmente” mean exactly the same thing in both languages. “I will eventually have enought money to get a car”, means the exact same thing as “Eventualmente tendré el dinero para comprarme un auto”. In Spanish it doesn’t mean “perhaps” or “maybe” at all.

Anyway, gonna keep reading now. Thanks again :)

Alberto
Alberto

Where did you learn Spanish? At least in Spanish spoken in Spain ‘eventually’ has the same meaning as in German, something like maybe/uncertain/at some unpredictable moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if in Spanish spoken in South America ‘eventually’ shared the meaning with English. There are some huge vocabulary differences after all

Carlo Toribio

Hi Emanuel, finished reading. Thanks again for the post. One more question, are “Eventuell” and “Vielleicht” interchangeable?

eknehr
eknehr

Sehr interessant. Ich würde gerne weitere solche Artikel lesen. Diese Wörter sind gute Wahlen.

Wenn ich kurzlich in Deutschland zu Besuch war, meine deutschen Verwandten haben mir etwas lustig davon erzählt. Nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg kamen Lastwagen mit Lebensmittel, Kleidung usw. Auf der Lastwagen standen “Gift from America.” Die armen Amerikaner könnten nicht verstehen, warum niemand Gift wollten!

Vielen Dank, noch einmal. Bei diesem Blog wird mein Deutschlernen interessanter.

Eric

eknehr
eknehr

oops…auf DEN Lastwagen.
meine deutschen Verwandten oder soll es deutsche? Arrrgh die Grammatik!

Gila Halleli
Gila Halleli

Brilliant! How about also and also?

Ikaxas
Ikaxas

Hallo, toller Artikel wie immer.

Ich wollte dich nur kurz darauf hinweisen, dass “means as much as” nicht so gut auf Englisch funktioniert als “bedeutet so viel wie” auf Deutsch. Da würde ich eher “basically means” oder einfach “means” benutzen. Ich kann mir jetzt im Moment keine Situation ausdenken, wo “means as much as” komplett natürlich klingt, das heißt aber nicht, dass es keine gibt. Aber so wie du es im Artikel benutzt hast, klingt’s nicht genau richtig.