Most languages have these accidental cross overs where one word looks exactly the same, or sounds the same, as a word in another language. But the meaning is quite different. Called heteronyms, these are a few of my favourites from Indonesian to English.
Air – just to be confusing this is indeed one of the elements, and something you can’t live without. Do you breathe it? No, of course not. It means water.
Are – a way to measure land, it is a hundredth of a hectare (10m x 10m). [note: I just found out that this word also exists in English. Who knew!?]
Ban – a tyre and one of several car-related words on this list.
Cap – the first word in the ubiquitous stir-fried vegetable dish, cap cay, it comes from Chinese.
Cat Oven (or Cat Open) – despite the images this name conjures, it is not a place where kittens are baked (or opened). It means a place that can redo your car’s paint job.
Gang – why are there so many gangs in Bali? They even have their own sign posts. Gang means small street.
Got – we have one of these across from our house. A nice big drain.
Jam – I love strawberry jam, mango jam, guava jam. But in Indonesia it’s a different kind of stickiness, it means hour.
Helm – you don’t actually need one of these if you’re at the helm of a boat or plane. But you sure should wear one on a motor bike on these streets. Yep, it’s the underutilised helmet.
Lima – if you resided in the Peruvian capital a situation might conceivably arise where you have to give your address and confusion ensues. At a stretch. But anyway, lima means five.
Made – one of the most popular names in Bali, you really can say Made in Bali and it would be accurate each time
REM – yep, kind of cheating here with all capitals but otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. Rem is another car part, this time it means brake.
Rad – that’s totally rad, man! No it’s not. In Indonesia it means council.
Resort – why are the police in Indonesia always going to resorts? Signs saying Polis Resort are not uncommon but it only means a local division of police. It doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sun lounges and happy hours though…
Sari – it’s a piece of clothing in India but in Indonesia it means essence. This leads to hotel names like Alam Sari (essence of nature), restaurants named Sari Organik and even health foods like Sari Korma (essence of date).
Semen – cement, obviously. Hence the big bags of it.
Tang – ooh yes, that pair of pliers has a nice tang to it.
Tas – in Australia this could be the a shortened form of the picturesque state of my birth. But in Indonesia it’s just a bag.
Yoga – Ubud is well known as a place with more yoga mats per square kilometre than anyway else in the world. But why do all these other little shops have signs with Yoga on them? Some of them are even selling mobile phones. Yoga is a name.
There are sure to be many more that I haven’t thought of. What is your favourite?