Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When a "Resorte" Isn't a Resort

Words from one language that sound like the same word in another language are called "cognates." Spanish and English have a ton of them. That's why it's relatively easy for the speaker of one of those languages to pick up the other. It's not like English and, say, Japanese. Not too many cognates there. When you hear "verificar," for example, you can usually noodle out that that's "verify."

But then come the "false cognates," words that sound alike in the two languages but DO NOT have the same meaning. The most famous of these, and the bain of every young lady traveler in Mexico, is "embarazada." Looks like "embarrassed," right? How many female travelers to Latin America have said "I'm embarazada" thinking they've just told their new friends they're embarrassed, only to find out later what translation of their remark was really, "I'm pregnant." Oops.

When you see a sign that says "Bufete," in Mexico, don't get in line for the $6 All-You-Can-Eat special. "Bufete" doesn't mean buffet, but rather "law office." I stumbled across one of these the other day. I was out shopping for a mattress for my new place. I'm too old to sleep on the floor, so a mattress is the very first purchase for a new apartment. The sales clerks kept talking about "resortes." OK, I figured the were touting a hotel-quality mattress used by fancy resorts. Only when I got back home to my trusty electronic translator/dictionary apparatus did I discover they were talking about springs (resortes=springs) all along. Bong bong bong. Silly me.