5 pernicious little buggers that are hiding in plain sight.
How do you say “the book” in German? You are right: it’s das Buch. How about the verb “to make”? That’s easy, it’s machen. Because the first folks who spoke English in its earliest form come from the same place as the guys who speak German today, there’s tons of examples just like that between German and English. These pairings — two similar words in two languages with similar meanings — are called cognates, and boy are they ever useful. Cognates are not unique to English, and English cognates are not exclusively with German. There are also cognates with French and Latin words and even Sanskrit.
However, as often as cognates can help us, there are also false friends to trip us up. These are word pairing just like cognates with one exception: they don’t share the same meaning. Some false friends get the lion’s share of attention, like bekommen. Other words, like Handy, are not false friends. Rather, they are pseudo-English. Neither of these are the subject of today’s post. Instead, I’d like to cover several false friends that are commonly used but often overlooked. (Oof, did you catch that one? The verb übersehen, meaning to not notice something, is to overlook.)
How would translate these German words into English?
- der Flur
- der Chef
- das Rezept
1) Aktuell means “current”
Aktuell is often confused with “actual”. It should be “current” meaning something that is true or going on right now. “Actual” and the adverb “actually” translates best to eigentlich and it means “existing in reality”.
|Das sind die aktuellen Treibstoffpreise.||These are the current fuel prices. (right now)|
|Actually, they are from last week. (in reality)||Sie sind eigentlich von letzter Woche.|
The difference between the two is confusing. But just ask yourself: are you speaking to the timeliness of information, or the reality of the information? If you mean to say “at the moment…” then use
“current”. If you want to say “in reality …” then use “actually”
Incidentally, when “current” is a noun, it means “a flow” or “a stream”. This describes not just water, but also electricity. So here’s bonus false friend: der elektrische Strom is “electric current”.
2) Eventuell means “maybe”
Eventuell and “eventually” sound similar, but the former speaks of if and the latter of when. Eventually describes something that will happen in the end, at long last, when all is said and done, ultimately. It’s just a matter of time.
|Gibt es eventuell eine Möglichkeit?||Is there maybe a possibility?|
|We will eventually return home||Wir werden schließlich nach Hause zurückkehren.|
So when you mean eventuell, something can potentially happen. It might be just what you’re looking for. You may be right. Maybe.
3) Flur means “hallway”
Let the bodies hit the floor. Boden, that is. There’s no need to drag them out into the “corridor”. So a Flur is a “hallway” or “corridor”. It gets a little crazy because an Etage is also a floor.
|Gehen Sie den Flur entlang.||Go down the hall.|
|There is a pool of blood on the floor.||Da ist eine Blutlache auf dem Boden.|
|My office is on the second floor.||Mein Büro liegt in der zweiten Etage.|
What’s more, “hallway” is often just shortened to “hall”. A hall, however, can also be a cognate with Halle. We have concert halls and lecture halls. These generally do not take place in corridors.
4) Chef is the boss… of the kitchen
It’s on us English speakers this time. A “chef” in English means a trained cook., from the French chef de cuisine (boss of the kitchen). Chef in German means “boss” and a trained cook is a Chefkoch or Küchenchef. The Germans got it right, the English got wrong. C’est la vie.
|Mein Chef kocht vor Wut.||My boss is fuming.|
|Our chef only uses fresh ingredients.||Unsere Küchenchefin verwendet nur frische Zutaten.|
Again, although chef is French for “boss”, in English it only applies to trained cooks. As for bosses, there’s a tons of titles that are more descriptive: chief engineer, head of sales, managing director, CEO, supervisor, shift leader, district manager et cetera. On a side note, I’ve heard many Germans say “big boss”. Although not incorrect, you’ll rarely hear that in the wild — outside of the song Kung Fu Fighting.
And speaking of kitchens:
5) Rezept has two meanings
If you use a Rezept as instructions to prepare food, you mean a “recipe”. The kind of Rezept you’ll get from the doc for medicine is a “prescription”.
|Na Du Hübsche, was kochste? Erfinden wir eventuell ein ganz neues Rezept?||Hey good lookin’, watcha got cookin? Maybe we can find us a brand new recipe?|
|Ich habe Fieber, und das einzige Rezept ist mehr Kuhglocke.||I have a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell.|
At any rate Rezept never means “receipt” (Beleg, Quittung). Take note of the different pronunciations. Recipe has three syllables (REH-sih-pee) and “receipt” has only two and the “p” is silent (reh – SEAT).
No friends of ours
Did you know these already? It’s actually nothing to worry about if you hadn’t. You’ll eventually get used to the others. Just give yourself time, no doctor’s prescription can speed up the learning process. Currently your boss is waiting out in hall for those receipts from that business lunch. Dang that meal was good! I should have asked the chef for the recipe.