I am aware of words that have different meanings in different languages (for example, the word "brat" means brother in many Slavic languages).

There are sentences made up from words of one language, that have meaning only in another language (for example, the sentences "Come shall then well bload ? Then well bload shell when blaight ! ...Blaight yatchman." are a meaningless mess of English words, but when read out loud in the Czech language it means "Where did that camel go? That camel went outside to vomit! Vomit barley")

I would like to take this even further.

Is it possible to construct phrases or sentences that have different meanings in different languages?

If yes, does this phenomenon have a name? Could you provide some examples?

It has a name in programming. Programs that are valid in more programming languages are called polygots. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyglot_(computing) They don't need to have different outputs, however.

Just to make things a bit more clear, I am looking for sentences that have reasonably understandable meaning. They don't need to be perfectly grammatically correct. It is even acceptable to use the "read out loud" technique, which can merge some words together or jumble some phonemes and thus give them a new meaning. For example in Slovak language phrase "akom ucil" can (depending on context) mean "how he taught", but if read incorrectly as "ako mucil", its meaning changes to "how he tortured".

Also, by phrase or sentence I mean string of words with length >= 2.

P.S.: I am sorry, but I couldn't think of appropriate tags. I would appreciate if you could suggest some better tags than those I picked.

  • 1
    It's quite easy in the Iberian languages as many present tense conjugations are written identically, but there are a number of adjectives with radically different meanings: "somos arrogantes/bizarros/esquisitos" where somos means "we are" but arrogante means arrogant in PT/ES but generous in AST, and esquisito means exquisite in AST/ES but weird/bad in PT, and bizarro means bizarre in PT/AST but courageous/noble in ES. I don't think there's a name Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 14:29
  • 2
    This would basically be the extension of the concept of false friends from the level of words to phrases and sentences. Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 14:34
  • @guifa thanks, that is interesting. Do I understand it correctly, that the adjective is the only thing that alters the meaning of the sentence when translated? The rest of the sentence is correct in both translations and has the same meaning?
    – filox
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 14:40
  • Yeah, although it could be possible to work with some verbs that do the same to create a more complicated effect, all three also create adverbs the same way -mente and while the articles are distinct, by using demonstratives that largely overlap, you could also throw in some nouns that are false cognates. If we can ignore accents the possibilities increase a good bit, and if we allow for very minor spelling differences they increase exponentially. Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 14:47
  • 1
    When The Empire Strikes Back came out, my Swedish friends were giggling at the title of the Danish version, Imperiet slår igen, because (they told me) in Swedish that idiom means "shuts down" rather than "strikes back".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


There doesn't seem to be an accepted name for this type of bilingual punning.

"Bilingual sentence" might seem appropriate, but it would ambiguously describe both the phenomenon of sentences that have the same meaning in two languages, and the phenomenon of two sequences of sound (or graphemes) coincidentally being two unrelated valid sentences in different languages, which is the one you're interested in.

A favorite example is the following : I VITELLI DEI ROMANI SONO BELLI.

This is said to ambiguously be either a Latin sentence meaning "Go, Vitellus, to the martial sound of the Roman's god", or an Italian sentence meaning "The roman's calves are beautiful".

Another Italian/Latin example is :


"Sing, o Nero, the great Persian wars!", in Latin "The black dog eats a nice peach", in dialectical Italian. (Translation taken from this page)

Wikipedia has a bunch of exemples here.

And in here are two poems in Italian/Hebrew

As you can see, these examples can be somewhat contrived, as should be expected in wordplay, and they are easier to make up if the languages are closely related.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.