Words That Totally Look Like English—But Aren’t

In Germany, wearing a bodybag doesn’t mean you’re dead in the morgue. And, face control in Russia has nothing to do with maintaining exquisite mastery of your facial features.

Since English is a major lingua franca, languages around the world import English loanwords. Usually, meanings don’t change. But sometimes, other languages give completely new meanings to words that look like English yet they aren’t ever used by English-speakers (or aren’t used in the same way).

So, what do bodybag and face control mean? It’s time to learn English all over again—or something that looks a lot like it.

In Korea, people who get lovey-dovey in public—those who aren’t afraid of giving a little PDA—are said to show skinship.

Like two tangled lovers smooching, the creative portmanteau merges skin and the suffix of friendship. In Korea, skinship, or PDA, isn’t common, even though Koreans love love. Dating is a huge deal, but instead of lip-locking in public, couples hold hands and wear matching outfits.

When a German asks you to look in the bodybag, he’s not suggesting you gaze upon a cold corpse under fluorescent lights.

Instead, he’d like you to search his backpack . The Germanized term makes some sense, given that the “bag” is worn and carried by the “body.” Just as long as the people are outside the bodybag, not in it!

Salary man is the Japanese (or Japanized) term for a salaried employee in an office. With Japanese pronunciation, the word is transliterated as sarariman. To be really cool, salary man is shortened to ry man.

It’s not clear whether this term applies only to salaried workers who are male, or if it’s used across genders. But the term OL, or office lady, is also used (pronounced oo eru or ofisuredii). 

The très belles femmes in Paris go out for a brushing before an important presentation at work, a fancy dinner date, or a night on the town. They would complain about poor service if all they got was a hair-brushing, though. 

In French, un brushing means a salon blow-out and style. Of course, hair-brushing is par for the course in the salon, so the French have allowed the English word to encompass that and all the other pampering treatments they have the bon chance to get.

Again, in Russia face control is not about keeping your eyes, nose, and mouth in check. Think body guards (face guards) at club entrances whose sole purpose is to control the influx of beautiful faces and keep the ugly ones out. The ones deemed face-lacking will hear “tonight is a private party." 

This ruthless practice is so ubiquitous, even the Moscow Times published an article about how to “get past” face control! Dress to the nines (you’re up against a lot of Russian models), arrive fashionably early, and keep your drunkenness to yourself!

Luckily, Berlin doesn’t have face control, so once you float into the club in Germany, the dance floor is yours until the wee hours of the morning. In fact, if your party goes on until well after the wee hours, you’re at an afterhour.

Partying until late is a sign of stamina and endurance, especially when you’re young. Undoubtedly, relishing (surviving) hours of tequila shots and heart-pounding dancing makes the afterhour well worth the heroic efforts!

Of course, afterhours are for hardcore partiers, not parents. The latter’s after-hours are decidedly different. They desperately squeeze catnaps in during the day to survive being up all night bouncing a sobbing baby.

In English, the weird term babylift would seem to refer to the action such parents take to lift and rock the baby back into some state of peace. This is kind of true in Danish, where babylifts are portable baby carriers (called carrycots in British English). There’s a play on lift here: Danish parents literally lift their baby in the carrier while giving them a lift (as in “a ride”).

In Hungary, everyone wears farmers, whether they get them dirty milking cows or not. Farmer is none other than classic blue jeans. The Hungarianized English term (Hungrish?) draws on jeans’ earliest roots in toil and soil.

Blue jeans were originally designed for miners, by Levi Strauss, and they became the world’s most popular pant, worn by blue-collar workers in fields and factories everywhere. In the ‘70s, farmers were scarce commodities in Hungary, and people would cross the border to Yugoslavia to get them.

American moms and dads are notorious for the warning “Don’t talk back to me, young lady/man!” In English, talk balk is a phrasal verb that means “mouth off” or “reply defiantly.” Mom and Dad’s warning is a well-known cliche because teenagers are notorious for giving sass.

But, in Hebrew, talk back is a noun, and a welcome one at that—well, sometimes. Talk backs (transliterated as tokbeks) refer to any response made online, like to a blog post or a social-media feed. Everyone knows how online communication works; sometimes replies are really positive, other times—at least in Israel—talk backs talk back!

From afterhour to funsports, German’s unorthodox English words suggest German people love a good time. The word funsports specifically describes two lucky sports: skateboarding and frisbee.

Why those two? It’s anyone’s guess. Is, perhaps, frisbee-while-skateboarding a thing in Germany? One could argue that they both involve flying disks. Either way, funsports undeniably live up to the name.

Sometimes, when students are struggling to understand a subject or perform at their best, a tutor steps in to provide additional support.

But, in Italy, everyone’s a student and the school is the road. Tutor is the Italian slang word for “traffic enforcement camera.” If you go too fast, run through a red light, or fail to pay a toll, tutors will catch you, lob you with a fine, and teach you a lesson you’ll hopefully never forget.

The Italians have other whimsical pseudo-English expressions, like body rental and sexy shop. Only one of them pertains to “adult entertainment.”

Body rental (aside from the other association you might be making) sounds like a sci-fi service for frustrated people who want to step out of their own shoes and be someone else for a while. Actually, body rental is a term used in the Italian IT sector for temporary hires.

If body rentals are boring tech temps, that means sexy shop is the store to go to for kinky contraptions.

No doubt people in China experiment with recreational drugs to “get high,” but when they say they “want to high,” they aren’t looking for a gravity bong. Drawing on the sense of uplift and heightened emotions when feeling happy, wanting to high simply means “wanting to have a good time.”

Mandarin Chinese is a language resolutely against outside influence, including the adoption of English words. That doesn’t keep Chinese people from wanting to high—heck, we want to high, too!

Maybe we can all high playing funsports in farmer pants, then go for a brushing before breezing past face control for a phenomenal afterhour. That's a mouthful. 

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