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False friends in business 1: French

Like walking down the aisle with the price sticker stuck to the sole of your shoe, it can happens to anyone. No matter how careful, experienced or fully bi-lingual you are, from time to time a false friend slips through the net, and you end up translating actuellement as ‘actually’ rather than ‘at the moment’. This underlines the importance of a stringent review process such as QuickSilver has in place – all translators sometimes relax their vigilance for a second, which is why it is so important to have at least two reviews of any given translation.

In this and subsequent blogs we want to have a quick look at the Most Wanted list of business-related false friends, starting with French.

Like all the romance languages, French is replete with words which look very like English (or Spanish, or Italian, or…) words, but in fact mean something totally different, or at least different enough to change the meaning of the sentence if you get it wrong. Take appointements, for example – it means salary, not appointment, which would be better rendered by rendez-vous (a word which we use in English, allbeit in a different conext, just as meeting has been taken up by the French). Then there is mutation, which refers to a relocation related to work, not a birth defect. Extra generally doesn’t mean additional (for which you would want supplémentaire), but top quality. Two related false friends: contrôle, far from being control, for which you would want diriger or dominer, means check, and caution means guarantee or deposit.

An interesting false friend is versatile. Although the meaning is essentially the same, in French it has a negative rather than positive connotation: it could be used to refer to someone who is flighty or inconstant, or who has yet to settle on what it it they want from life. Polyvalent renders better the English sense of ‘flexible, capable’.

Location is a headache: it means rent or lease. If you want to say where something is, your best bet is endroit. And finally: supplier. It doesn’t mean supplier (un fournisseur), but to beg.

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