Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Maybe you remember the central character of Voltaire's Classic: Candide.
This masterpiece relates the adventures of Candide, who tries to get along as well as possible in this material world, that, according to Leibniz's philosophy it's supposed to be "the best of all possible worlds".
"In the Discours de Metaphysique (Discourse on Metaphysics) (1686) Leibniz emphasized the role of a benevolent deity in creating this, the best of all possible worlds, where everything exists in a perfect, pre-established harmony with everything else. Since space and time are merely relations, all of science is a study of phenomenal objects. According to Leibniz, human knowledge involves the discovery within our own minds of all that is a part of our world, and although we cannot make it otherwise, we ought to be grateful for our own inclusion in it." (quoting from philosophypages.com).

The meaning of "candide"in French or cándido in Spanish is: "innocent, ingenuous, naive". Today, the Spanish word refers to a non-manipulative and genuine person. On the other hand, the English word "candid" or "candidly" means: "open, openhearted, plain, straightforward, unconcealed, undisguised, undissembled, undissembling, unreserved".

Let's imagine for a moment that an American native speaker chooses to relate to a "hispanohablante" (Spanish speaker) with the opening sentence: "candidly speaking"… his intention in this case is to disclose sensitive or personal feelings that denote his true view of a certain situation, yet these very words would be perceived by the hispanohablante in a completely different fashion… likewise, for the native English speaker perceives "candidly" a "candid" person as a direct and sincere fellow, that says its mind without BEATING AROUND THE BUSH (**please do not translate literally to ANY language, yet, surprisingly, this idiom translates as IRSE POR LAS RAMAS (going on the boughs of a tree), an image that does not necessarily matches the "cándidos" of this world…

Molest /Molestar

The Spanish word "molestar" means "annoy, bother disturb", whilst the English term "molest" conveys negative sexual connotations of "sexual harassment".
According to the "The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission":

"Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome."

At the present time, when all of us aspire to be politically correct, there is a need of being extremely careful when applying these verbal nuances… imagine then the reaction of a native speaker that was asked by his Argentinian colleague that wishes to brush up her English: KINDLY DO NOT MOLEST ME NOW…


The term "false-cognate" is sometimes used incorrectly for "false friend". False cognates are a pair of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. That is, they appear to be or are sometimes considered cognates when in fact they are not.
The mistranslation of a false cognate may not only lead to academic and linguistic mistakes, but even to real life conflicts.
One of these cases is the television coverage made by the Spanish television during the Vietnam War, in which the Spanish reporter informed that the American forces were "bombing the SANCTUARIES of the Vietnamese guerrilla". This item provoked a huge [and unfounded] media's spin…

Here is the story: after the American media informed on TV that the US forces had "detected and attacked the sanctuaries of the Vietnamese fighters (i.e. their hiding and refuge places), the reporter decided to translate the term to the Spanish word "santuario", which means "sacred or holy places"…
According to the"NTC's Dictionary of Spanish False Cognates" by Marcial Prado:
"Sanctuario" and "sanctuary" share the meaning of "shrine, temple". "Sanctuary also means "refugio", "asilo" (for persons)
"Buscar asilo en, acogerse a = to seek sanctuary in"


Monday, January 29, 2007


False Cognates
The term "false cognate" is sometimes used incorrectly for "false friend". False cognates are a pair of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. That is, they appear to be or are sometimes considered cognates when in fact they are not.

For example, the English term CONSTIPATION stands for a physiological state that is completly different to the meaining of the Spanish term CONSTIPADO.
While the English Word constipation indicates "a condition in which evacuation of the bowels is difficult and does not occur regularly", in Spanish, "constipado" means cold, i.e. "a common infection in which the mucous membrane of the nose and throat becomes inflamed, causing running at the nose and sneezing". As a matter of fact, this is one of the cases that the term "false cognates" gets an important medical meaning, and even an EXISTENTIAL one!

This reminds me the story of that Spanish friend of mine who, on her first overseas trip to the US, got a cold. When she arrived to the legendary city of New York, she went into a drugstore and asked for something that could relief her "constipation". Till this very day, twenty years later, my dear friend still wonders about the low expertise level of the big apple druggists, that, instead of giving her a product that could alleviate her cold, they gave her "some pills" that not only helped her condition, but added a non-wanted DIARREA!

The meaning of "False Cognates or False Friends"

False friends are those terms that look as identical words in Spanish or English, but, as a matter of fact have different meanings...