My Peruvian friend informed me that a lemon is called "lima" in Peru while a lime is called "limón". This contrasts with some other Spanish dialects that use the word "limón" for lemon and "lima" for lime. Is there a word for this phenomenon? Additionally, what are some examples in English?

When the two words are from the same dialect, then what I'm describing is a pair of homonyms that have the same definitions—or more accurately, a pair of homonyms that have at least 2 definitions in common—but I don't know if this phenomenon is prevalent/important enough to have a word for it.

  • 3
    I don't know if there's a specific name for it, but these are examples of faux amis, where two lookalike words in two different languages/dialects sound similar. Aug 2, 2018 at 17:29
  • @WavesWashSands, I would vote up your comment, but unfortunately I don't have that privilege. I've never heard of "faux amis", so thank you for teaching me that term. Aug 2, 2018 at 18:03
  • The question is complicated because limas and limones are both green citrus products with the same flavor. (the idea of a green lemon makes no sense to a USAan; the idea of a yellow one makes no sense to a Mexican).
    – jlawler
    Oct 5, 2023 at 17:37
  • It’s not exactly an answer, but there are many examples of common words turning into slang words with an opposite positivity/negativity connotation. Everyone probably knows the outdated “sick” meaning cool, but a far popular one in my community (high school in Chicago) is “bad,” which means attractive. I bet there are coincidental examples of two words going opposite ways such that their slang meanings resemble each other’s standard meanings.
    – Graham H.
    Oct 6, 2023 at 2:52

2 Answers 2


I don't believe there is a specific term for this, but it could be described as a cognate mutual pair of cognate false friends (since both lima and limón derive from Arabic لَيْمُون‎ (laymūn, “lemon, lime”)).

This question on ELU has a number of British/American English examples, but none that come in mutual pairs unfortunately.

These wikipedia pages offer a more complete list:

A partial example that comes to mind is Asian/Oriental:

Word Br. En. meaning Am. En. meaning
Asian From the Indian subcontinent From East Asia
Oriental From East Asia From Asia
  • Thanks for the pseudo-examples and etymology of "lima" and "limón"! The "Asian/Oriental" example is great; but as an American, I think of "Oriental" as meaning "from East Asia". I almost never use the term though since some find it offensive. Aug 2, 2018 at 20:36

In the U.S., lemons and limes are similar, except limes tend to be smaller. The -on at the end of "lemon" appears to be an augmentative form, so it might mean "big lime". For the term "augmentative", see Spanish diminutive and augmentative terminations, which gives an example "una mujer - woman ---> un mujerón: a big, strong woman".

I'm not claiming anything about the actual etymologies, but just pointing out that it makes some sense to call a lemon a big lime. Also, I've seen some rather large fruits called "lima" in Brazil, so I think there may be some confusion about what to call these similar fruits.

I doubt there is anything general or interesting going on here.

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    Does not answer the question, which is about terminology. Aug 4, 2018 at 0:14

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