8 words that look like English but actually aren’t

Learn languages October 1, 2019

Millions of people around the world study English, and as the global language, it’s of course starting to make its mark on other cultures and languages, whether people like it or not! This effect can sometimes cause confusion for native English speakers when an English-language learner drops a word they believe is English into the conversation.

These words which look like English but actually aren’t are usually combinations, abbrevations or shortenings of existing English words, misunderstood meanings, or even two or more words jammed together to make a brand new one! These special words are called pseudo-anglicisms, and they’re actually more common than you might think. Let’s take a journey through some of the world’s best words that look like English, but most definitely are not…

Antibabypille (German)

It doesn’t really take much imagination to figure out what this German expression means: an antibabypille is actually a rather interesting and very Germanically efficient name for the contraceptive pill. We certainly can’t see any flaws in this logic!

Salaryman (Japanese, サラリーマン)

Salaryman is also a relatively easy expression to deduce the meaning of – English is probably kicking itself that its rather long equivalent is ‘white-collar worker’. Japan’s salarymen live a high-pressure life, working long hours and then having to participate in after-work activities in addition. Women aren’t left out of the loop, either, as Japanese also has the terms kyariaūman (career woman) and office lady, though the latter is largely used for secretaries or those doing clerical work.

Footing (Italian, French, Spanish)

Who knows why this incorrect term for jogging has completely taken over Italy, France and Spain? You’d be surprised at the amount of people who genuinely think this is the English term for ‘jogging’, though the correct term is slowly creeping into the languages and becoming more commonly used. Another curiosity is that Spanish speakers in Latin America don’t hacer footing –they generally use trotar!

Skinship (Korean, 스킨십)

Modern South Korea is the true king of creating pseudo-anglicisms, so much so that the wide range of vocabulary has its own name: Konglish. Can you figure out what these words might mean?

  • Eye-shopping
  • One-piece
  • Sign pen

The first is window shopping, the second means ‘dress’, while the third is actually a marker pen. As for skinship, it describes intimate physical contact between platonic friends – so holding hands, or hugging. English would probably benefit from taking this word under its wing! Konglish is innovative and clever, but also causes some divide between the two Koreas. North Korean defectors have some linguistic difficulties when it comes to integrating in the south, thanks to the spread and prevalence of Konglish terms, and even just English written in hangul, Korea’s alphabet.

Relooking (French)

While in recent years the Académie française, the council and authority on the French language and its use, has been actively attempting to prevent the anglicisation of French, it can’t stop each and every word. The Académie might have a tough time coining this term as English though, as it doesn’t make much sense to a native speaker. Does it mean to look again? A remodelling? No, actually. It’s a makeover! You can even use the verb form of the noun, relooker, if you want to demonstrate perfect ‘Franglais’.

Face control (Russian, фейсконтроль)

Admit it, you’ve done it. Judged a book by its cover, so to speak. This Russian term means to screen people based on what they look like, but we don’t mean as we simply pass them in the streets. Face control means to screen people for the purpose of restricting entry into certain establishments, such as upscale nightclubs. Bouncers employing face control will check out looks, money, and style, before they decide to let you in. You’ve been warned!

Babylift (Danish)

While it inexplicably sounds like some kind of plastic surgery for babies, a babylift is actually simply a carrycot. Danish also counts on some other great pseudo-anglicisms, like monkeyclass, meaning economy class, and cowboytoast, which is a sandwich made with minced meat. Cowboytoast is certainly the cooler-sounding version.

While some might look at pseudo-anglicisms as negative, we certainly don’t! It’s important to remember that languages have been doing this for hundreds of years, English included. The English speaking world calls a nightgown a negligee, but no French person would ever dream of doing so – that word in French means ‘neglected’!

Language is adaptable and exciting: it changes just as we do, with new phrases and expressions being coined every day! Instead of learning just the words that look like English, why not dive into a language course and learn even more?

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By Emily Lawrenson

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