In Italian, il peperone is what the English would call bell pepper, but the English word peperoni has come to mean a type of sausage, in particular when on a pizza.

In Italian, latte is milk, but in English and several other languages, latte has come to mean a type of coffee with milk.

In English, chai is short for masala chai, a type of Indian tea with sweet spices, but the word chai sounds (very) similar to Russian чай, Hindi चाय, Persian چای, or Mandarin , which all just mean tea.

All of the above have the potential to confuse people who speak one language but not the other.

Is there a word for this type of etymological journey, in which a word is taken from another language but given a quite different meaning?

  • Le smoking, le rosbif, sportif, le five o'clock
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 12:35
  • See also this question: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/31980/9781 Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 13:07
  • 3
    Virtually every borrowed word has a different meaning or reference in the borrowing language from the meaning it had or has in the source language. It's unavoidable; native names have all sorts of associations that are stripped off by borrowing and replaced by new ones and new metaphors and strange expectations in a new culture.
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


The closest term I can think of is "false friends" (informal) or "bilingual homophones" (formal), they can either derive from loanwords (taken from a different language then developed to a new meaning), or from shared etymology.

  • 1
    Hmm, but the examples I gave are rather direct paths of loanwords becoming false friends, which does not apply to all false friends.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 12:50
  • Note that all of the examples have changed from words referring to one kind of food/drink to words referring to a different type. Not really "completely changed".
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 15:22

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