Same sentence, different language, still makes sense?
July 7, 2009 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Are they any sentences that can be said in one language, but also understood in a different language (albeit with a different meaning)?

Sometimes when I hear someone speaking a different language, I suddenly pick up on a collection of foreign sounds that happens to sound like an English phrase - it isn't though, I just hear it like that.

I don't mean differences between, say, English and American English here, I mean different languages, such as Russian and Italian. Also I don't mean brand names or globalised phrases like Hello...
posted by devnull to Writing & Language (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Try saying "I don't know" in Shanghainese.

(The answer is yes, as long as you are not applying very strict standards for pronunciation and emphasis.)
posted by grobstein at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2009

The French for 'what's up' is 'Quoi de neuf?'

It sounds like you're saying "Quite enough!" in a strong/fake southern accent.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:46 PM on July 7, 2009

A friend of mine told me this:

"Good beer and good cheese is good English and good Fries."

(referring to the Friesan language.) I have no idea whether it's true, though. And Friesan is the extant language which is most closely related to modern English.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:48 PM on July 7, 2009

You should take a look at David Melnick's Men In Aida, which is a lot of (English) sentences, mostly nonsense, which, when read aloud, sound like the words of Homer's Iliad (in Greek).

e.g. "menin aeide thea Peleiadeo Achileos" becomes "Men in Aida, they appeal, eh? A day, O Achilles!"
posted by kidbritish at 2:53 PM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

Frisian language...

No e...
posted by dfriedman at 2:56 PM on July 7, 2009

You're talking about something like this?

posted by abdulf at 2:59 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Yellow blue bus" sounds like a poor pronounciation "I love you" in Russian.
posted by Autarky at 3:00 PM on July 7, 2009

It's not much of a sentence, but "Szia, sajtburger" is Hungarian for Hello (or goodbye) cheese burger. It sounds a hell of a lot like "see ya, shite burger."

Oh and there's a a word for kidbritish's examples: soramimi.
posted by Xalf at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The punchline to one of my bilingual jokes is the spelling of the word "socks" in english, which is eso si que es! in spanish.
posted by devbrain at 3:12 PM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

There's a joke line in some play I did in highschool, where the French maid keeps telling the doofus son, je t'adore! and he keeps saying 'the door IS shut!'
posted by nax at 3:15 PM on July 7, 2009

For an English sentence, there's the Chinese French-Croatian Squid.
posted by Paragon at 3:17 PM on July 7, 2009

There's Mots d'Heures, Gousses, Rhames which, while perfectly grammatical (if nonsensical) French, when read aloud sounds like English Mother Goose rhymes.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The portuguese word for "pull" is "puxe" which is pronounced something close to "pushy." Needless to say, the entire time I lived in São Paulo I walked up to doors labeled "puxe" and I pushed, instead of pulled.
posted by ambrosia at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2009

I retold a bad joke based on something like this on mefi before.

The joke is based on the fact that saying "The bowl broke" in Mandarin sounds like "One dollar" in English. "He broke it!" loosely sounds like "Ten dollars!"
posted by FuManchu at 3:30 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Don't touch my moustache" sounds like "dou itashimashite" ("you're welcome") in Japanese.

There's a hilarious Japanese show about "soramimi" song lyrics, called Soramimi Hour:
Michael Jackson
Sean Paul
System of a Down

It's way funnier if you speak Japanese, but still pretty funny if you don't.
posted by vorfeed at 3:54 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

itadakimasu (effectively bon appetit) in Japanese is pronounced somewhat like "eat a duck I must"
posted by idb at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2009

"Yellow blue bus" sounds like a poor pronounciation "I love you" in Russian

"Yellow blue vase" sounds like a slightly better pronunciation of "I love you" in Russian. (Nabokov is said to have brought the object into classes at Wellesley and Cornell and draw it out of them. Doubtless others have done so as well at other times and places)

What was done above with Homer was done also with the Aeniad, but I can't find a reference, sorry.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:35 PM on July 7, 2009

Più bicchieri -the Italian for "more glasses" (as in, "do you need more glasses with this bottle of wine?") sounds for all the world like "pubic hairy."

[/childish giggle]
posted by Eumachia L F at 4:39 PM on July 7, 2009

Grobstein, in what language is the Shanghainese meant to be (mis)understood? It doesn't sound like anything in English to me.
posted by d. z. wang at 4:44 PM on July 7, 2009

The portuguese word for "pull" is "puxe" which is pronounced something close to "pushy."
My Brazilian OB-GYN spoke some English. He said, "Push! Push!" during my delivery and confused a whole room full of Brazilian nurses.
posted by wallaby at 4:48 PM on July 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

Saying "12 months" in Estonian is pretty silly... kaksteist kuud (the link is worth 20 seconds of your life).
posted by milqman at 4:55 PM on July 7, 2009

And Friesan is the extant language which is most closely related to modern English.

Yeah, people over there believe that, too. I was an exchange student in the area a few decades ago. People used to hand me books and things in Frisian, saying "It's so close to English! I bet you can read it!"

Not a chance. It might as well have been Linear A.

posted by gimonca at 5:15 PM on July 7, 2009

Good beer and good cheese is good English and good Fries.

It's more properly written as " 'Good beer' and 'good cheese' is good English and good Friese." The whole sentence isn't actually good Friese.

Also, I know that example as "brown eggs" and "green cheese."
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:02 PM on July 7, 2009

Search for "misheard lyrics" on YouTube. (Example...)
posted by Jelly at 6:06 PM on July 7, 2009

Well there's the [alleged] motto of the French navy: ""A l'eau, c'est l'heure."
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:06 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems there's a wikipedia page for "bi-lingual pun" jokes.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:35 PM on July 7, 2009

The French for "four five" is "quatre cinq," which sounds like "cat sank," and was used to good effect in a B. Kliban cartoon.
posted by scratch at 6:35 PM on July 7, 2009

Also see Dog Latin

example from Wikipedia (also something my grandfather learnt at school):
Brutus ad sum iam forte / Caesar aderat / Brutus sic in omnibus / Caesar sic in at.
("Brutus had some jam for tea / Caesar had a rat / Brutus sick in omnibus / Caesar sick in hat.")
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 6:36 PM on July 7, 2009

There used to be a comedy show on Argentine TV that did music videos of misheard lyrics from (mostly) English pop songs. My favorite is their version of Queen's "We Are the Champions."

The video makes sense if you get the Spanish; the chorus is "Take care of the pigs, Mabel; taking care of the pigs is your duty."
posted by dr. boludo at 7:08 PM on July 7, 2009

And Friesan is the extant language which is most closely related to modern English.

This is true, but they really aren't mutually intelligible.
posted by atrazine at 8:43 PM on July 7, 2009

Oh goodness yes. And when you're a native English speaker who makes dumb plays on words and you work in another country with natives who also enjoy making silly plays on words, you end up with emails like this in your inbox (I'm American, live and work in France):

Ail ou radis ? (Are you ready?)
Débile (The bill)
Qu'on gratte tous les jeunes ! (Congratulations!)
Mord mon nez (More money)
Marie qui se masse (Merry Christmas)
Oui Arlette (We are late)
C'est que ça pèle (Sex appeal)
Dix nourrices raidies (Dinner is ready)
Mais dîne Frantz (Made in France)
Ahmed a l'goût d'tripes (I made a good trip)
Deux bouts d'chair (The butcher)
Il se pique Germaine (He speaks German)
Youssef vole ma femme au lit ! (You saved all my family!)
Six tonnes de chair (Sit on the chair)
Sale teint de pépère (Salt and pepper)
Beaune - Toulouse (Born to lose)
Âme coquine (I'm cooking)
Délicate et saine (Delicatessen)
Varices de grosseur ? (Where is the grocer?)
Guy vomit sous mon nez ! (Give-me some money!)
Toute ta queue traîne (To take a train)

The French phrases do indeed make sense, though they aren't anything you'd hear in normal conversation, with the exception of "débile" ("crazy", "wacko"), "c'est que ça pèle" ("good grief it's freezing") and "Beaune-Toulouse" (the names of two cities), which are more common.
posted by fraula at 12:40 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

'Un petit d'un petit s'étonne Aux Halles' (Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall).
posted by punilux at 1:34 AM on July 8, 2009

In François Le Lionnais' Lipo: Second Manifesto, he writes of having quasi-homophonically 'translated' John Keats' line 'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever' as 'Un singe de beauté est un jouet pour l’hiver' (literally 'a beautiful monkey is a toy for winter').
posted by misteraitch at 3:03 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

"You're welcome" in Romanian is 'cu placera' (apologies for spelling, I'm working off 9 year old memories here).

An Irish girl I was working with over there, when I said thanks as she handed me a beer or whatever, would shriek 'Keep Yer Cherry!' at me and double over laughing.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:11 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Ayam Soree" means "Chicken in the morning" in Bahasa Indonesia, and sounds like "I am sorry" in English.
posted by embrangled at 3:30 AM on July 8, 2009

My dutch roommate used to tell a half English- half Dutch conversation/joke:
"Do you fuck horses?" (Fuck being a soundalike for the Dutch to breed)
"Yes, Pardon" (I think Pardon sounds like the Dutch for horses).
"In the why!" ('why' sounding like the Dutch for corral).

At least, thats how she explained it to me.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 3:43 AM on July 8, 2009

My mum says she used to know a joke version of "Oh Carol" in Hakka that sounds like the English words, but she can only remember the first couple of lines now. As best as I can transcribe, it goes:

"Oh Carol, ngai oi bok ya foo,
ngai lin cha lup yu.

Which apparently translates to:

"Oh Carol, I want to take off your trousers,
and smear your penis with grease.
posted by lucidium at 6:40 AM on July 8, 2009

There's a Swedish joke about the line "What a handsome face!" being misheard as "Var det han som fes?" ("Was it he who farted?"), said in a Scanian dialect.
posted by martinrebas at 6:50 AM on July 8, 2009

A Japanese man I tutored told me that one piece of advice he had heard before coming to America was that you could simply say the name of a popular Japanese dish -- age dofu -- to let the taxi cab driver know when to let you off. The idea was that "ah geh dof foo" would somehow be understood by the taxi driver as "I get off here."
posted by Deathalicious at 12:33 AM on July 9, 2009

Point at a poster in France, and pronounce the sentence, "Say 'tuna fish'."

They will nod. "Oui. C'est une affiche."
posted by IAmBroom at 12:13 PM on July 9, 2009

Aqui es una mesa ("Here is a table" in Spanish) is pronounced like the Yiddish: A cow eats without a knife.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:40 AM on July 10, 2009

So many great answers! Thanks!
posted by devnull at 3:01 AM on August 9, 2009

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