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Non-Native English Speakers Shared Phrases They’ve Been Confusing for a Really Long Time

In every pair of languages, there are some words that look exactly the same but mean opposite things. In linguistics, these words are usually called translators’ false friends. And that’s where most of our mistakes come from. So, to prevent you from making similar and other mistakes in the English language, the Reddit user shouldnotexist created a thread where non-native speakers shared their funny stories about phrases they’ve been confusing for a really long time.

We at Bright Side went through this thread and chose 31 of the most hilarious stories to amuse you and give you some food for thought at the same time.

  • Getting laid. I spent my whole first year living in the UK thinking it meant getting drunk. I would occasionally ask people where a good place was to get laid. I once casually told a female colleague that I had gotten laid so hard during the previous weekend that I couldn’t even walk. @shannister
  • I’ve lived in the UK for almost 15 years now and only recently was corrected by a coworker (who was laughing his head off by the way) that it’s “talkative” not TALKACTIVE. @EmiStarr9
  • Little German me spent a high school year in the US back when I was 16. For quite a while I was wondering who this Oliver Sudden (all of a sudden) guy was and why he was being so frequently mentioned. @p0werf00L
  • I second that.” For some reason, I thought it derived from “I would give that a second opinion/look,” i.e. basically meaning “I disagree.” I learned the hard way when my female colleague was complaining about how she gained weight over the holidays, and I wanted to make her feel better by disagreeing. @Dashaosibb
  • It took me a very unpleasant moment to learn what “booty call” actually means. I thought it meant that someone called you by accident, by sitting on their phone (like a butt-dial). My friend’s face dropped when I told them that my dad booty called me. This followed by a lot concerned questions made me realize the true meaning. @Ninjikuru
  • I always thought “Paint the town red” was a massive fight or some other destructive shenanigans, and people looking to “paint the town red” were up to some serious mischief that would probably end with someone calling the cops. @doihavemakeanewword
  • My first year in the UK, I mistakenly thought “camp” meant “cool.” God knows how I misinterpreted it to that extent. Cannot count the times I told people “I like your shirt, it’s really camp.” Or “those shoes look super camp bro.” Or “you need to meet my camp friend James” etc. Turned out, camp in the UK means borderline homosexual, or super effeminate. @HumbleTrees
  • Bloody weather, bloody week, bloody...” Though in Spanish there are similar expressions, as a non-native English speaker, I was seriously asking myself if it referred to that time of the month for ladies. @crdenas_joseph
  • For me it’s intimidate and intimate. They are total opposite words, so it confused people when I talked to them and used them wrong. @HeyWorldItsTheRealMe
  • ’’All but’’ as in ’’he was all but gone’’ or ’’the winner of the battle was all but decided." I always thought it meant that something certainly didn’t happen. As in ’’the winner of the battle was everything except decided." Turned out to be exactly the opposite. Needed 22 years of life and 10 years of learning English to get this one. @Falsh12
  • A similar one for me was “how come.” I thought it just meant “how” but apparently it can also mean “why.” A friend once asked me “How come?” after I said something like “... so I came to the UK.” I started telling him what flights I took to get there before he interrupted me and explained what he meant to ask. @blogietislt
  • The word “kickstart.” I always thought it was to begin with violence or to provoke the person you want to have a fight with, turned out to be the exact opposite. @danieldaniel999
  • I thought hanging out and hung over were the same thing. A friend looked at me puzzled when I asked him when we’d hung over, since I didn’t drink alcohol. @Llodsliat
  • I know where you’re coming from.” It took me forever to realize (or google) what it meant. People would tell me that and I’d be like “ugh?” but I never really asked what they meant by that. @tracesoares
  • I watched American television and they kept saying stuff like “this semester is killing me.” Semester is the Swedish word for vacation and I didn’t know why it always seemed like a semester was hard work in America. I was 25 when I learned what it was in English. @Wewkz
  • To take something for granted.” I thought it meant to believe something that you were told without questioning it. @lauruut
  • German here. Until now I thought a gherkin was some kind of furry animal like a weasel. Now I realize it probably comes from the German word Gurke (pl. Gurken) for cucumber. @B4-711
  • I spent 3 years thinking people were saying “Cheese” as a normal way to say Goodbye. Turned out the word was “Cheers” and it meant “Thank you.” I felt so stupid, but in my defense, it sounds the same for someone who is non-native. @tom_w45
  • When I moved from Brazil to Canada I was 12 and didn’t really speak much English. When I learned about the word “awesome,” I kept using it to compliment things that I found, well... awesome. The mistake, however, was that I broke down the word into awe-some, as in, causes some awe. Therefore I assumed the word awful, was awe-full, meaning something better than awesome. Needless to say I made a lot of enemies in art class when I’d enthusiastically go up to classmates and just exclaim “wow that’s awful!” with a huge grin on my face. @son_of_moretz
  • I thought “I concur” meant I disagree for a long time. @Kalaydowscoop
  • Being “up in arms.” I thought it meant “hugging someone” for way too long. Turns out it’s quite the opposite. @fanaticlychee
  • I spent few years typing “literally” as “litterly” and then one day read my essay and checked the things what were marked “wrong.” Yeah. @xRom3
  • Library. I confused it for raspberry so I always called that place the raspberry. @Decaftoaster1
  • Toe the line.” I’ve lived in an English-speaking country for over 7 years now and only realized what that means a month ago. I thought it meant you were almost over the line, only barely within the boundaries (like a big circle where the line is the edge and you’re toeing it). But I finally realized it means that you are totally conforming. @Minnim88
  • Let’s just say that confusing words “retired” and “retarded,” especially when meeting my boyfriend’s parents, wasn’t my proudest moment. @almond100
  • There is no such thing as...” Once I told my native English teacher that “there was no such thing as friendship” which to me meant that nothing could compare to friendship, that friendship was the best thing there was. He looked completely confused and I tried to explain by saying “to me friendship is the best thing.” he looked even more confused. I gave up. Years later I found out what it really meant... What a shame. @ThatGearheadGirl
  • For a long time, I thought the word nowhere should be read as now-here and believed that maybe it was a philosophical terminology that had something to do with existentialism... Nope, it should be read as no-where. @Rysteltein
  • I confused bowels and stomach and so I thought bowel movement meant when your stomach is making the rumblies. @fanaticlychee
  • Passing out” vs “Passing away.” I was always alarmed when people talked about passing out. @Azarathos
  • White lie.” In English, it means a harmless lie, while in Hindi the literal translation of the phrase which is “Safed Jhoot” means an atrocious lie. For years I would use “white lie” in sentences thinking about its meaning in Hindi until one day I learned the real meaning. I am pretty sure many Indians have the same misconception. @FresnoMac
  • The word “terrific.” I thought it meant “horrible,” which really made me confused because people would say nice things about something and then say that it’s terrific. @Doughnut84

Have you ever confused a word or a phrase in your own or a foreign language? Feel free to share your funny stories in the comments!

Preview photo credit shannister / reddit
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