This sort of thing seems to go on in lots of languages. Many years ago, the daughter of a friend married a German and, went off to live in Germany. She thought she had more or less got the language cracked until, one evening, when out with friends, she brought the conversation to a halt by exclaiming “Ich bin heis” which, it appears, means, “I’m feeling sexy” rather than Ich habe heis" which means “I’m feeling hot”. Very like “rhew” & “rhiw”
Also there was the old joke of a foreign student who came over to the UK to learn the language. After being here for a couple of years he had a vast vocabulary, with no trace of an accent, and to all intents and purposes it was impossible to distinguish him from someone who had been born and brought up here. However, on walking past a London theatre he saw the sign “The Mousetrap, pronounced success” and went off and shot himself.
I experienced a similar amusing mix of words myself some years ago, shortly after having moved to Spain. I was determined to use Spanish whenever I could. When my wife wanted some cushions, we went to a local market to see what we could find. There were several stalls of cushions, but all on the small side, so I would ask in my best Spanish if the stallholder did not have “cojones más grandes.” This inevitably produced a smile, often accompanied by loud remarks to fellow stallholders, often accompanied by much laughter.
Returning home and somewhat puzzled, I checked in the dictionary: cushions are cojines, and cojones are something completely different…
These are great! They make me feel a whole lot better about my little mishap.
Its not just languages either. It can happen with gestures too.
Many years ago, I was visiting Portugal, and wanted to buy some polo mints (the mint with a hole). Anyway the shopkeeper was not understanding my very loud English, so I formed a ring with my finger and thumb and proceeded to put another finger through it, in an attempt to describe the mint. This did not go as planned!
One of the very few words of Spanish I know!! From movies! In USA they seem to tend to use it as a more polite way of refering to them when meaning courage, where I might say, “He didn’t have the guts to do that!” So I was gigglng muchly about your cushions!! Feeling hot is a dubious remark nowadays in English too! And I will never forget the experience of being totally bemused as to why my male friend was so horrified in 1969 when I said his new shirt was very gay!
Even one’s mother tongue can trip one as it changes over time!!
We were discussing how we would make a sponge cake, in Welsh, when my friend said that we should break two grand-daughters (wyres) into the mixture. We said we preferred eggs (wyau), but would be happy to go with her choice if she insisted. Not sure how light and fluffy the final product would be…
In JK Jerome’s sequel to “Three Men in a Boat”, called “Three Men on the Bummel”, George is in a shop in Germany, and asks a young female assistant if he can have a cushion. He is surprised at her reaction, giggling and blushing, going over and whispering to her colleagues, etc.
Finally, she says to him that he can have one, provided he leaves the shop immediately afterwards. Bemused, he agrees. Then the girl tip-toes up to him and gives him a chaste kiss, and then rushes back to her colleagues, covering her face in her apron.
As you will have guessed, the words for “cushion” and “kiss” are very similar, and the “wrong” way around: “Küssen” = “kiss” “Kissen” = “cushion”
(Sounds pretty tame in 2016, but would have been pretty racy in 1900)
OK, I’ve got one. WARNING: it’s a bit naughty. I hope it’s not too naughty for this forum; I’m not quite sure what is permissible here. People of delicate sensibilities might want to stop reading now.
This story was told to me by a colleague many years ago. She had spent a year or so teaching English to adults in… Japan, I think it was. She asked her class to describe, in English, their morning routine.
One gentleman described in slow, careful English how his alarm went off each morning, he got out of bed, showered, dressed, and then “my wife gives me breastf***.”
The teacher was shocked into silence. Then a classmate tapped the man on the shoulder and said, "It’s pronounced ‘breakfast’ ".
I am always a bit sorry for Japanese people who come to Britain and who have names which, to our ears, are a tad unfortunate! This is especially true as they are so polite that having folk trying to suppress giggles whenever they are introduced must be very unnerving! I had a telephone request from the Japanese Embassy to enroll a gentleman for a Conference when I was Secretary of the Organising Committee many years ago. I asked her to repeat his same, I queried the first letter and was assured it was ‘f’. It turned out that it was ‘s’, but the name was still one with unfortunate connotations in English!