Words that sound rude or inappropriate in English from other languages

With April Fools’ Day on the horizon this Easter weekend, let’s have some silly fun with some words in Czech, Welsh, French and Russian, that look or sound rude, insulting or inappropriate in English (and sometimes vice versa). This is an innocent exploration of coincidences in language, and not a torrent of abuse aimed at anyone personally. So, if you are easily offended, then please don’t read on. And there’s no 1 April trickery here, these are all real words. Have I missed any that you know of?

But on a more serious note, this just goes to show that seemingly innocent words can easily be misinterpreted in other languages and cultures. We’ve all read the examples of brands, especially car makes and models, meaning offensive things in other countries. Getting it wrong can be expensive, whether it means physical rebranding costs, or damage to your brand and customer engagement. If you are planning on expanding your domestic business to an international market, then you need to consult a local native speaker who works on branding and cultural insights. Local language experts are best-placed to check over your company name and/or product/service names to make sure they don’t sound or look smutty, laughable or offensive in the local language.

Get in touch if you need any help with making your local business global. Language JEM has a wide network of trusted linguist contacts who can help you with cultural insight projects, no matter what the market.

RUSSIAN > ENGLISH

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шаг [shag]
– a step

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брат [brat]
– brother

 
 
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шапка [shapka]
– fur hat

Looks like "wanka" reading Cyrillic letters as Latin script. Always a giggle in Russian class.

 

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щит [shchit]
– shield

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смелый [smyelii]
– brave

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шляпа [shlyapa]
– hat

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соска [soska]
– dummy (UK),
pacifier (US)

Another one that looks a bit rude reading Cyrillic as Latin.

 

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первый [pervii]
–  first

In football pervii taim (первый тайм) actually means “first half” and Petr Pervii (Петр Первый) is actually “Peter I” (Peter the Great).

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Настя [Nastiya]


– a female first name

This is a short term of endearment from the full first name Anastasia. And the diminutive "Nastinka" is not so nasty and stinky as it sounds – it’s actually a very affectionate pet name.

 

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Ассоль [Assol']
– a female first name

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Аршавин [Arshavin]
– a male last name

 

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Жирков [Zhirkov]
– a male last name

 

FRENCH > ENGLISH

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biche [beesh]
– doe (deer)

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phoque [fock]
– seal

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coque [cock]
– shell

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(ils) peuvent [perve]
– (they) can

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ace

 [ass]


– ace (cards)

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oui

 [wee]
– yes

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piscine [pissin]
– swimming pool

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douche [doosh]
– shower

An insult more common in US English – from a feminine hygeine product for use in the shower.

 

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chat [shat]
– cat

 
 

ENGLISH > FRENCH

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face
– visage

Sounds like the French word for "buttock" (fesse).

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pet
– animal de compagnie

Sounds like the French word for "fart" (pet).

 

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preservative
– conservateur

Sounds like the French word for "condom" (préservatif).

 

 
 

WELSH > ENGLISH

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coch [kokh]
– red

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cant [kant]
– 100

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moron [moron]
– carrot

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pump [pimp]
– five