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joe l.Friday 01st of April 2005 09:33:34 AM
False Cognates - While browsing some other online references on Russian, I found a page on false cognates. Cognates (for those who don't know) are words that look/sound similar in Russian and English. One example would be:

студент and student

A false cognate is a word that looks/sounds like an equivilent English word, but actually means something different (and could cause confusion for those of us just starting to learn Russian!). I found these kind of interesting. An example of a false cognate would be:

Аудитория, which in Russian means audience not auditorium.

So - if you know any false cognates, list them here!
joe l.Friday 01st of April 2005 10:09:27 AM
- one more, then it's time for a self-induced coma for the night...

проспект (avenue) vs. prospect
AnyaFriday 01st of April 2005 01:18:38 PM
- ok, this one comes with a little bit of an embarassing story. False cognates can be quite tricky along with causing confusion like Joe said.

My grandfather speaks only Russian, so in translating the history of the founding of Vermont, I committed an unintentional use of a false cognate that led to a joke in our family.

The Ira Allen story said that he was the founder and first explorer of the state of Vermont, which I translated as "Первый проходимец" really meaning to say "первопроходец" (first passer, instead of sexually loose individual). So later in the brochure, it was talking about maple syrup without "preservative" which CAN NOT be translated to "презерватив".

At least I was consistent with below the belt innuendo! and my grandfather had a chuckle that in Vermont (at least) maple syrup comes without condoms.

nochnaya vedmaSaturday 02nd of April 2005 12:46:25 AM
- i like the презерватив thing. i'ven't got any exciting ones, but фамилия (famIlia) translates as "last name", not "family".
Saturday 02nd of April 2005 02:15:45 AM
- Doesn't have to be "exciting" - you example is exactly what I was looking for when starting this thread!

The next one's a little iffy:

Артист (actor) vs artist

I have seen Артист used as "artist" in a few sources, so it may not be a true false cognate. But at least in some usage it seems to be.
joe l.Saturday 02nd of April 2005 02:16:42 AM
- Doesn't have to be "exciting" - you example is exactly what I was looking for when starting this thread!

The next one's a little iffy:

Артист (actor) vs artist

I have seen Артист used as "artist" in a few sources, so it may not be a true false cognate. But at least in some usage it seems to be.
AnyaSaturday 02nd of April 2005 11:40:45 AM
- "магазин" is a store not related to "magazine," a collection of colorful pages on a wide range of topics.
joe l.Saturday 02nd of April 2005 12:04:39 PM
- Физик or physicist, has nothing to do with physique
sandmanMonday 04th of April 2005 02:12:11 PM
- in fact аудитория means auditorium too...

some more:
аккорд - "chord", but not "accord" in the sense agreement etc.
аккуратный - mainly "neat", not "precise"
бриллиант - not brilliant, but "diamond"
декада - ten days, not "decade"
марка - "stamp", not "mark"
офицер - only army officer
лист - "sheet", "leaf", very rarely "list", and only in some fixed terms such as "subscription list" (подписной лист )
гениальный - "ingenious", not "genial"
мультипликация - mainly "cartoon animation", not multiplication
стул - a "chair", not a "stool"
трап - a "ladder" (such as of a ship), not "trap"
joe l.Monday 04th of April 2005 10:19:59 PM
- Thanks Sandman! Great list! Any idea on how many of these words can be used as true cognates also? So far, Аудитория, and I have doubts on артист. Any insights on артист? Ever seen it used as artist, or is it just "actor" about Кабинет, which means "office", and not "cabinet".
sandmanTuesday 05th of April 2005 11:08:29 AM
- not at all, joe l. %)

well, артист is translated by my dic as "actor, artist(e)". but i never seen it used in the meaning "artist (painter)". only in the meaning "actor" (normal and ironical ones). but as long as the dic says it, probably it is used like that somewhere. but i guess, in such a case it will take some time for the most people (literate enough) to get, what it's all about, and it will look odd.

кабинет - it's mainly office, plus several terms related to ministers (single-party cabinet, shadow cabinet etc). never "kind of a шкаф". but the dic also gives the meaning "set of office furniture", but i cannot remember if i ever seen it. i guees i haven't.

офицер sometimes is used for the chess piece named "bishop"

декада can mean decade as a technical term (decade counter, decade potentiometer etc)

аккуратный sometimes can mean smth close to 'precise' - 'punctual', 'thorough' (about a man)

аккорд - well, afaik, english 'accord' can mean 'chord' too

фамилия can mean family, but kind of old

проспект can mean prospectus, advertising booklet etc.
joe l.Wednesday 06th of April 2005 09:16:39 AM
- Found Интеллигентный in dictionary as meaning cultured, not intelligent.

I imagine this is where the term "intelligentsia" comes from?
joe l.Friday 08th of April 2005 10:20:44 PM
Another one... - Комплекция

Doesn't mean complexion, one of my dictionaries has it as "build", while another Has it as "rehash". A different Russian language website has it as "constitution".

Anya, Sandman, anyone - which is the correct definition (or are any of them correct, depending on context)?
nochnaya vedmaSunday 10th of April 2005 12:54:31 PM
- i'd translate it as "contents", "constituency", or "constitution".
joe l.Monday 11th of April 2005 06:25:39 AM
- спасибо, nochnaya vedma. Gonna add that definition to my list.

Next word:

Декорация used as setting, not decoration.
sandmanMonday 11th of April 2005 02:31:18 PM
- don't know why nochnaya vedma would translate it as 'contents' (perhaps she confused it with 'комплектация' or 'комплект' which is close to 'contents' but not exactly), and 'constituency' (have no idea what it could be mixed with).
well, "комплекция" is "build", "constitution". my dic adds also "figure", "frame"
joe l.Wednesday 13th of April 2005 07:01:13 AM
- Thank you again sandman!

Next false cognate is фабрика. While it sounds like the English word "fabric", in Russian it means "factory".
nochnaya vedmaWednesday 13th of April 2005 07:47:48 AM
- "contents" was a bit of a stretch, i suppose. it's along the right lines, though - the property of something that describes what makes it whole and how.
sandmanWednesday 13th of April 2005 11:43:45 AM
- well, i guess i know where that stretch comes from. the synonym for 'комплекция' is 'телосложение'. and 'сложение', 'склад' is a bit closer to 'contents', 'composition'. ukrainean 'складовi', belorussian 'складнiкi' can be translated as 'contents', 'ingredients'.

anyways, 'contents' tells us what's inside, or which components were used, whereas 'комплекция' refers mainly to the appearance, to the visual shape, figure. and it can be used only concerning humans, sometimes animals (mostly dogs). one can never say it about food, books, internet sites etc.

'contents' is better translated as 'содержимое', 'содержание', 'состав', 'наполнение'.

of course, perhaps i miss something and an example of a russian sentence with 'комплекция' which could be translated into english using 'contents' in place of it really exists, but i don't have any idea. it'd be great if nochnaya vedma or someone else could give a real example.
joe l.Saturday 16th of April 2005 10:09:16 PM
- sandman, do you think sometimes the false cognates actually take on an unitended meaning - just because they "sound" like a different foreign word? It seems like a few of them have secondary meaning that are what the foreign equivilent would be.

Next false cognate:


means sleepwalker, not lunatic
sandmanMonday 18th of April 2005 06:20:38 PM
- yes, some of the 'false' cognates are not fully 'false'. there are 'true-false', 'true-true-false' etc %)
but usually the word is considered a 'false' cognate when one-two main meanings don't coincide with those of the foreign almost equally spelled-said counterpart. often such a word has equal (secondary) meaning, but is archaic etc
joe l.Tuesday 19th of April 2005 01:10:21 AM
- interesting how the secondary/tertiary definitions can be the "true" cognate definition. Guess it shows how important context is in constructing and understanding sentences...

next false cognate:


This one could cause confusionat a doctor's office - if it's taken as the word is pronounced, it indicates a heart condition, while in reality, it's tonsillitis
AnyaThursday 28th of April 2005 11:35:42 AM
- Бензин is not an aromatic compound but actually gasoline.
For the longest time I assumed that cars must run on 6-membered carbon rings (that would make the grade quite low, wouldn't it? ;))
joe l.Thursday 28th of April 2005 08:04:42 PM
- банда

Not musicians, but instead a gang - guess that makes a big difference if you're trying to hire musical entertainment!
sandmanFriday 29th of April 2005 10:40:34 AM
- пример

not a 'primer', but 'example'
AnyaFriday 29th of April 2005 11:19:08 AM
- Женя, your word reminded me of this one:

not premiere, but prime (as in prime minister)
joe l.Tuesday 03rd of May 2005 09:08:32 PM
- Бог

Not at all a swampy area filled with water and peat. Instead, it's God
joe l.Friday 20th of May 2005 05:31:54 PM
- костюм = suit or outfit, not necessarily a literal "costume"
AnyaWednesday 25th of May 2005 07:11:37 PM
- блокнот - this is not a block note, but a notepad. A stretch, since I'm not sure if they use notes on the blocks in English-speaking countries!
joe l.Friday 27th of May 2005 06:24:20 AM
- проспект not "prospect", but avenue
joe l.Thursday 07th of July 2005 08:28:19 AM
- Just found this one - which I kinda found interesting. The word is абракадабра. While it's often used as a word associated with magic (said when something appears/disappears), my dictionary gives it the definition of gobbledygook.

Kinda odd, no?