False friends (english), faux amis (french) or lažni prijatelji in Montenegrin – all of these represent the same phenomenon: a pair of words or syntagmas which are similar when it comes to their form, but different in meaning. “False friends” can have a form of a word or a phrase. The phenomenon is as old as languages even though it was mentioned for the first time in the 20th century by the linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny.

Insufficient knowledge of another language may be one of the reasons for the use of false friends. However, sometimes the certain amount of carelessness is enough to cause such mistake. Recently, one of the French officials wanting to compliment the wife of the Prime Minister of Australia called her delicious. He made a mistake because the word form “délicieux” in French does not have the same meaning as “delicious” in English.

Where can we most often spot “false friends”? We can start with the media that pose the greatest danger to the purity of a certain language. If some expressions are about to be translated from one of the world’s languages, a mistake often happens because of the influence of a source language. So, it is not surprising that we see that in Montenegrin “change of life” is translated as change of lifestyle, “eventually” as possibly, “familiar” to family, “conserve” to cans, “barracks” to old houses

Also, we can notice false friends in movie subtitles and usually the person who did the subtitles is not trained enough, or licensed to do that job. Now, we are going to mention English-Montenegrin translation. That person would translate dressed to kill as trained to kill, do or die as work or die, by the book would have a literal translation and it would lose the meaning that is related to a person who always adheres to rules…

This phenomenon is a real linguistic trap for all of those who plan to learn a new language or are experienced translators already. Although these mistakes make us smile at first place, they can lead to misunderstanding, wrong transmission of information, or offending the interlocutor.

In order to avoid the unpleasant situations where the interlocutors look at us with their eyebrows raised, we should try our best and “meet” our “false friends” so our communication would be easier and the information transmitted just the way they should be.