Fabio Paolo Barbieri (fpb) wrote in linguaphiles,
Fabio Paolo Barbieri

A false friend

Language students are regularly warned against "false friends" - either words that sound similar but have different or even opposite meanings (how many Germans have been scalded in Italy because they did not know that caldo does not mean kalt?) or words with similar etimologies but which drifted apart in different contexts (I should imagine that everyone, by now, knows that a fattoria is not a factory). I have just come across a particularly subtle and interesting one. Apparently, Schiller and Beethoven's Ode an die Freude translates into Spanish as Himno de la alegria. Now, I am Italian, and this just struck me - as we say - like a punch in the eye. There is no way that German Freude could translate as Italian Allegria. Allegria means cheerfulness, bubbliness, lack of care; something pleasant, indeed, but much more superficial than the profound, overwhelming, earth-shaking emotion described in the poem and the symphony. If Spanish Alegria can describe that emotion and that experience, then it is dangerous indeed to connect it to its Italian cognate.

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