Speak Like an Italian: (Avoiding) False Cognates

Above: In Italian a “camera” is a bed room. A “macchina fotografica” is a camera. Confused?

We want you to be able to speak like an Italian, but we must warn you that there are some pretty easy ways to stick your foot in your mouth if you’re not careful.

Today’s Italian lesson is on false cognates, or “false friends.”

Cognates are words that basically sound the same in both languages in question. For example, there’s intelligente (intelligent) and farmacia (you guessed it, pharmacy). But don’t get caught asking for pepperoni on your pizza if what you want is cured sausage because what you’ll end up with is bell peppers. This is why it’s called a false cognate.

We don’t want you to get caught in a sticky situation where either hilarity or calamity can ensue, so here’s our top ten list of false friends:

1. Sensibile: it means sensitive, not sensible.

2. Baldo: courageous (You can describe to the local authorities that the taxi driver who ripped you off is baldo, but you won’t be referring to his head.)

3. Collegio: boarding school or dormitory (Explaining your educational background might make your new Italian friends think that you are very rich.)

4. Morbido: soft (Your little brother’s obsession with horror movies is… soft? I don’t understand!)

5. Genitori: This means parents. Get your mind out of the gutter.

6. Fabbrica: factory (Farm is fattoria and fabric is tessuto. Confused yet?)

7. Camera: room (Want to take a picture with your… room? Instead, make sure and ask for the macchina fotografica.)

8. Romanzo: novel (No, you do not want to have a great novel on your vacation, you want a storia d’amore.)

9. Educato: polite (Telling someone that their children are so educated when you mean polite is not an insult, but it may be confusing when referring to a toddler.)

One response

  1. Pingback: Pepperoni pizza: avoiding a false cognate in Italy | Live Like an Italian

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