When learning a new language, there are usually some words the two have in common, whether they come from the same (typically Latin) roots or have directly borrowed from each other. But as any beginning Czech learner knows, the Czech language features a number of words that seem to have an English equivalent, but actually mean something completely different. These are known as ‘false friends.’ There are numerous examples of false friends throughout the Czech language, but the ones below can have particularly tragic results if confused: Closet vs. Klozet In English, a storage room. In Czech, a toilet. Thankfully, the Czech usage isn’t very common; toaleta and záchod are more often used when referring to a restroom. Angina vs. Angina Be very careful with this one: if your Czech doctor diagnoses you with angina, you don’t have the English version, acute chest pain that may precede a heart attack. Instead, you have tonsilitis. Preservative vs. Preservativ Don’t put these on your toast: the English-language term for an additive used to preserve food (like jams) actually means condom in Czech (and Spanish, French, and other languages). Chef vs. Šéf In English, the head of a kitchen, or anyone who is cooking. In Czech, however, the same-sounding term refers to any boss. The 2014 movie Chef was confusingly translated as Šéf. Pollution vs. Poluce They sound the same, but the English term for introducing a harmful substance into the environment refers in Czech to a “wet dream”: the emission of ejaculate during sleep. Curve vs. Kurva Be very careful here. The innocent English term for something that doesn’t follow a straight path is actually a derogatory Czech word for a prostitute. Camera vs. Kamera Well, this one seems easy enough, right? Wrong! Kamera, in Czech, only refers to video cameras. The term for still camera is fotoaparát. Penis vs. Peníze Add that e at the end, and the English term for male anatomy actually means money in Czech. It doesn’t help that the Czech word for the male member is a true friend, penis. Watch your pronunciation here. Actual vs. Aktuální In English, actual refers to the real, literal, and factual; in Czech, it means topical or current, in the news sense (a popular Czech news outlet is named Aktuálně.cz). Not to be confused in the era of fake news. And while US readers & listeners won’t be bothered, a note for those from the UK: čipsy refer to crisps in Czech, while pudink refers to custard. Do you know some more Czech-English false friends? Let us know through the comments below!
About Daniel Lee 291 Articles
The versatile Danny Lee has been living in Prague and writing about the Czech capital for the past 15 years. You've probably read his work in the past without even knowing it.