Are there words/phrases/compound-words in two different languages that use the same words in their respective languages (like a calque / loan translation) but result in different meanings?

Here is a made up example if my question isn't clear:

[English] Lady Bird meaning A small beetle.

[Some other Language] XY (X = Lady, Y = Bug) which should have a meaning different from the beetle (Maybe something like a lady who is irritating just to give you an example).

I know that calques have the same meaning in both languages for example: Superman and Übermensch means almost the same thing in English and German but here I am specifically looking for words that seem like calques / loan translations but differ in their meanings.

I wasn't able to find any questions here on the topic. Loanwords with different meanings from original language? This is the closest I can find but it is a question on loanwords that diverged from their original meanings.

Any help is appreciated!

  • 5
    Seems like you're asking for false friends with some constraints (e.g. that they be compounds, that they share etymology). Mar 11, 2021 at 16:31
  • 3
    Would Unternehmer vs undertaker qualify? (Let's assume it's not a calque.) Mar 11, 2021 at 16:32
  • @AdamBittlingmayer Yeah I want them to be calque-like. As in - It needs to share the component words in their respective languages but at the same time have different meanings.
    – Tangent
    Mar 11, 2021 at 20:11
  • 1
    @AdamBittlingmayer Yes, Unternehmer and Undertaker seem to me as a correct example! (I don't know German but I googled) Looks like It means Entrepreneur in German which is a complete different meaning from the English Undertaker . Are there more examples? Is there a name for words like these?
    – Tangent
    Mar 11, 2021 at 20:16
  • 3
    @Tangent I wouldn't say you were wrong. If someone told me they were "an undertaker", I would not assume they were an entrepreneur - that's what entrepreneur is for. In contrast, someone who undertakes is more likely to be an entrepreneur than an undertaker - which is probably where that extra definition you found comes from.
    – No Name
    Mar 14, 2021 at 4:10

1 Answer 1


1. False friends

As per good suggestion from Adam Bittlingmayer you can look at false friends. Russian is a particular example of the language, where Proto-Indo-European roots evolved differently to Germanic and Romance languages.

For example:

English: beryl fabric (meaning: a cloth of beryl color)

Russian: берилловая фабрика (meaning: chemical manufacturing plant specialized on beryl compounds)

I believe in most European languages you will also get a calque with the latter meaning.

2. Calqued auto-antonyms

Presidential sanction could mean approval or disapproval from President in English. Calqued version will also sound almost identical in most European languages and could go either way.


By combining the two, you can even make sentences which sound almost the same, but have different meaning. This example may sound a bit machine-generated, but I believe it has meaning and is grammatically correct:

English: Director of marketing on the phone insulted and sanctioned a magazine of beryl fabrics.

Russian: Директор по маркетингу на фоне инсульта санкционировал магазин берилловой фабрики. (meaning: Director of marketing, in the midst of a stroke, authorized a beryl factory store.)

  • The cognates of fabric mean factory in every single European language except English, as far as I am aware. That's an example of how English evolved to be unique, not Russian. Mar 20, 2021 at 22:19

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