Lost in Translation: The Meaning Behind Foreign Phrases You Thought You Knew

Spanglish- a friend and enemy

When it comes to the second most spoken language in the US, Spanish phrases sometimes bear the brunt of the grammatical evolution as they become part of everyday English usage. But other languages often get misused, too, as we continue growing into a cultural melting pot.

We take a look at some of the most misinterpreted phrases that have become the norm and what they really mean.


No problemo: The reason why this phrase became the Spanish-American version of "No problem" stems from the generalization that all masculine gender words in the language end in "o". But as many Spanish 101 classes will tell you, there are exceptions to every rule (words ending in "ma" are always masculine). So, if you ever want to say "no problem" with a Spanish accent, try No hay problema or Ningún problema.

Es caliente: If you were trying to say "It's hot", as in the weather, try hace calor instead. If you're trying to compliment a sexy chica, you may want to stay away from the phrase. In some Latin cultures it may mean the lady is literally in heat or…shall we say…promiscuous.

Mucho bueno: Since we already know "muchas gracias" and "buenos dias", it comes to no surprise that if you wanted to say "very good", mucho bueno would be the first thing that comes to mind. However, unless you want to get a chuckle from a native speaker, try the correct form of muy bien.

Spanish and beyond

Spanish isn't the only language that sees its share of mis-use. Check out the changes in definition of some other foreign words that have been adopted into English.


Entrée: Used widely on restaurant menus as the word for a main dish, the actual meaning refers to the appetizer plate, the "entry" into the night's meal.

A la mode: While this phrase means having a dessert "with ice cream on top" in the US, a la mode really means being stylish or fashionable. But as far as we are concerned, ice cream will never go out of style!

Corsage: How this word became known as a small bouquet of flowers worn to proms is beyond me! In French it refers to the woman's torso. Really?


Al fresco: You may picture having dinner outside under the shade of an umbrella when you hear this phrase being used in the states, but avoid asking to eat like this in Italy. It is currently the slang for being in jail or in prison-in the "cooler". Try using the terms "all'aperto" or "all'aria aperta" or even "fuori" instead.


Anime: Americans have come to use this word to name a specific type of Japanese-style animation where the characters have huge, almost teary eyes; girls are top heavy and guys are super fast. Well, word is actually used more generically in Japan for the entire category of animation regardless of style or what country it comes from.

Sake: In the US we order sake when we'd like to have an alcoholic drink made from rice to accompany our sushi. But in Japanese, the same word refers to all alcoholic beverages. If you really want to have sake in Japan, make sure to order "Nihonshu" instead.

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