First, let me say this questions is asking only about fairly recent loanwords (as in, the word (or something similar to it) exists in both languages). I'm not asking about very old loanwords that may have shifted in meaning in either/both languages.

As an example of what kind of loanwords I'm looking for, let me present:

das Handy and der Smoking in German (borrowed from English; try to guess the meaning before looking at the spoiler below).

cellphone and tuxedo, respectively.

Even though both are "borrowed" from English, the meaning probably isn't clear to an English speaker.

I am not referring just to loanwords where the meaning is slightly adjusted from the meaning in the borrowing language, for example:

  • sombrero ("hat" in Spanish, but a specific style of hat when borrowed into English).
  • baguette (I guess "rod" or "wand" would be the best translation? Also refers to the bread, because it has that shape. In English, refers exclusively to the bread.)

Is there a term for loanwords with a completely different meaning in the borrowing language (to the point that native speakers of the original language wouldn't understand)? Can anyone think of examples where English borrowed a word and did this? (I have trouble with this as an English speaker.) I do realise this might be fairly subjective.

If I've screwed up any terms, please let me know and I can edit this.

  • When a word is borrowed, liberties are taken with its pronunciation (consider Germans discussing Jazz) and with its meaning, since the borrowing happens in particular circumstances and contexts, where the meaning is specific and limited. If these circumstances recur, so can the borrowing, and so can the changes.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 20:39
  • See also this question and its answers: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/29471/… Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 9:06
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    Would you include cases like double entendre, which looks French, but doesn’t actually exist in French at all? Also, Smoking is not as illogical as you might think: the tuxedo or dinner jacket evolved out of the smoking jacket and was called a smoking jacket for a while in English too – that’s the usage that stuck in several other languages. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 11:02
  • US/GB football = rugby/soccer (prescriptive terms, different cultures). German Parking (different usage).
    – Joop Eggen
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:25
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    @CoffeeTableEspresso My point was that it can be difficult to draw the line between a ‘fairly recent’ loan and a ‘very old’ loan where the meanings have drifted over time. With Smoking, the English meaning has drifted over time since the word was borrowed into German, even if the loan isn’t actually all that old, so isn’t it really an example of one of the things you start out by excluding? I can think of no loan words that start out being unintelligible to speakers of the source language; that usually only happens after mismatched semantic shifts. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


In German a word like Handy or Oldtimer can be called a Scheinanglizismus (pseudo-Anglicism).

Of course that is specific to this one source language, and there are others for other languages.

More generally it can be called a Scheinentlehnung (pseudo-loan).

Smoking is a bit different because it is similar in many languages, so it's not clear that German speakers invented it.

There is another word false friend (or similar in other languages) which is for a broader category, like actual.

Not all possible sets have a shorthand label with currency in every language.

  • I wasn't aware other languages had something similar to Smoking, thanks. It's unfortunate that there's no specific word for this, besides pseudo-<language>ism Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 19:40
  • Maybe pseudo-loan? Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 20:37
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    You can use the German term Scheinentlehnung (at least in a scholarly paper) Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 9:07
  • Yes, thank you, updated. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 15:29
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    @vectory Every German knows that Handy comes from the Swabian dialect question Hän die koi Schur? "Do they have no wire?" Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 9:59

Most loanwords develop different meanings, so the term is a loanword/borrowing. You should just assume that the loan could have a different meaning from the source language.


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