Finnish Translation: Beware of False Friends

May 21, 2012   //   by Sergio Guillen   //   In English  //  6 Comments

False friends, those tricky words that are a translator's enemy and that can be found in almost every document we translate, also exist between English and Finnish. In this article, we take a look at them so that they won't cause you a nightmare during your next translation project.

So, what’s a false friend? Well, as many of you might know, a false friend (from the French faux ami) is a word or an expression that shares a similar written form in two languages, but which has different meanings. Therefore, false friends can be quite problematic because, when you see them, you might assume they have the same meaning as a similar word in your native language.

Sometimes, even fluent users of a language can confuse them; even professional translators can be misled by a false friend. That’s why, as a translator, it’s crucial to familiarise oneself with them. Remember that when it comes to translation, ‘false friends are worse than bitter enemies’, as the Scottish proverb says, and you should keep your eyes peeled, because they might be waiting for you around every corner.

It seems no language is free of false friends, and the Finnish language is no exception. During the years I’ve spent working as a translator, I’ve come across many false friends; they were in that urgent assignment, or that translation I finished off without first having my coffee, trying to confuse me. Luckily, I was able to spot them and translate them properly. Therefore, I would like to help you in your war against false friends by sharing some of them with you.

Finnish False Friends
Finnish word It looks like… But it means…
alas alas down
ale ale sale
angiina angina tonsillitis
appelsiini apple orange
biljoona billion trillion
dokumentti document documentary / document
fagotti faggot bassoon
greippi grape grapefruit
happi happy oxygen
harmonikka harmonica accordion
he he they
helppo help easy
hinta hint price
home home mould
housut house trousers
impi imp virgin
joki joke river
kaniini canine rabbit
katu cat street
kinkkinen kinky tricky
kissa kiss cat
kone cone machine
kudos kudos tissue (as in muscle tissue)
kulta cult gold
lampi lamp pond
lapsi lapse child
lento lent flight
levy levy disc
likööri liquor liqueur
lintu lint bird
mappi map binder
matto mattress rug
me me we
miten mitten how
motoristi motorist motorcyclist
nanni nanny nipple
novelli novel short story
pantti panty deposit
pasuuna bassoon trombone
pateettinen pathetic pompous
petroli petrol paraffin oil
piste piste dot
porkkana pork carrot
pussi pussy bag
pusu pus kiss
riski risky strong / risk
ruska rusk autumn colours
silikoni silicon silicone
takki tacky jacket
tunnelma tunnel ambience
undulaatti undulate budgie
uni uni dream (sensations occurring while sleeping)
uuni uni oven
viina wine liquor

Quite a few, huh? I’m sure there must be many others I’ve missed; so, I invite you—Finnish translators, Finnish native speakers, Finnish language lovers—to contribute to this list by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

About Sergio Guillen

I’m a translator, copywriter, proofreader, and editor. My working languages are Spanish, Finnish, and English. Connect with me on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.


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