Shakespeare’s false friends

False friends (‘faux amis’) are words in one language which look the same as words in another. We therefore think that their meanings are the same and get a shock when we find they are not.
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False friends (‘faux amis’) are words in one language which look the same as words in another. We therefore think that their meanings are the same and get a shock when we find they are not. Generations of French students have believed that demander means ‘demand’ (whereas it means ‘ask’) or librairie means ‘library’ (instead of ‘bookshop’). It is a sign of a mature understanding of a language when you can cope with the false friends, which can be some of its most frequently used words. Having a good grasp of the false friends is a crucial part of ‘learning to speak French.’ Shakespeare has false friends, too. A 16th- or 17th-century word may look the same as its Modern English equivalent but its meaning has radically changed. Naughty doesn’t mean ‘naughty.’ Revolve doesn’t mean ‘revolve.’ Ecstasy doesn’t mean ‘ecstasy.’ Some of these words occur so often in the plays and poems that they can be a regular source of misunderstanding. The obvious solution—as we do in learning a foreign. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Linguistics

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