Remember these French language ‘false friends’ when you speak 'green'

Being environmentally aware means you could come across some faux amis

English and French share many linguistic roots but beware certain words describing environmentally friendly behaviour
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When learning any second language, it is always a relief to see a familiar word.

You tend to think “Oh good, I know that one”.

However, as any speaker of more than one language will tell you, this feeling should never be trusted and can often lead you astray. Embarrassingly so.

While English and French share many linguistic roots, the evolution of certain words apparently diverged, giving rise to faux amis, or ‘false friends’.

These are misleading words that can often be spelt the same in both languages yet have entirely different meanings.

The meaning of the word has evolved

You might have giggled at the idea of eau de toilette perfume being a scent made from ‘toilet water’, and an American might be confused that les draps are meant for the bed and not to be used as curtains.

Read more: Five language ‘faux-amis’ that confused me as a French person in US

Take ‘durable’, a seemingly straightforward word that the English understand as longlasting, or something that endures.

It has this sense in French too, but the meaning has evolved to refer specifically to something that is ecologically sustainable.

Mention a construction durable and your French friend will envisage a building that is ‘green’, environmentally friendly, rather than one that is built to stand the test of time.

Language never claimed to be consistent!

Conversely, we talk about ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘eco-warriors’ to mean ‘ecological’ in English, but that makes no sense when you browse certain supermarkets in France and look at their eco+ range.

These products do not have the planet’s wellbeing at heart but rather your budget: éco is short for économique.

That said, if you want to make choices that are good for the environment and you look online for guidance, the official French website directs you to a list of écogestes: action to protect our ecology.

Well, language never did claim to be consistent!

Read more: Faux amis: Avoiding language traps in French

Take a ‘sensible’ approach

Still, when it comes to sustainability, we should all be sensible.

In English, the word suggests taking a rational approach; in French, sensible is about sensitivity and feeling.

Soyons sensibles à l’environnement is a call for awareness rather than logic and pragmatism.

Apparently, in the words of that muppet Kermit the Frog, it is not easy being green.

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