'Sano' and Still Not So Sane


False friends are those tricky and misleading words that make our life more difficult. They make us think that they’re related, family, partners…but in reality they’re almost enemies. If learning languages was as easy as learning million/millón, telephone/teléfono, mission/mission, everybody would speak at least ten different ones. Some of these tricky ‘faux amis’ are already well-known: actually / actualmente, carpet / carpeta, table / tabla, large / largo, library / librería, etc. Words that crop up over and over again in class, and by now you can probably picture your teacher repeating them tirelessly.

However there are other words that are as tricky, but not as well-known. These are the most common ones:

Billion / Billón: ‘One billion’ is not exactly ‘un billón’; ‘one billion’ is ‘un millardo’ and ‘un billón’ is ‘one trillion’. Clear? I know…it’s complicated. The bottom line is: ‘One billion’ = 9 zeros, ‘un billón’ = 12 zeros. This is a translation mistake that would cost most economists their jobs.

¡Qué bizarro!/ How bizarre!: Enough. I can’t stand that word anymore. If I continue to hear it in everyday conversation, I’ll end up using it! No, ‘bizarro’ is not an adjective with a negative connotation, it’s a compliment! ‘Bizarro’ doesn’t mean weird or unusual, it means gallant and generous.

Sensible / Sensible: To cry while you’re watching Titanic (for the tenth time) is one thing, but to have good judgment and act rationally (avoid watching it at all?) is a completely different thing. So, if you want to express how sensible you are, please avoid using the word ‘sensible’ in Spanish…unless you want to convey that you’re one of those teary people.

Sane / Sano: A ‘sane’ person is not necessarily ‘sana’. You can be very healthy (sano) and still be completely nuts. This kind of thing is what adds to the subtleties of language.

Molest / Molestar: This false friend can be especially unfriendly in the US, a country where suing has almost developed into a national sport. ‘Molestar’ can be translated as ‘to annoy’ or ‘to bother’, but if a Latin person thinks you’re being annoying and decides to shout “he’s molesting me”, run. It might be the only way to avoid public embarrassment.

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