Monday, July 23, 2007

Same words, different meanings

Sometimes the same words in two different language can cause confusion in conversation. I don't mean like when the British use the word "boot" to mean a "trunk" of a car because it is apparent in a short matter of time that both parties are not talking about the same thing. Sometimes, there are more sublte issues of confusion and disagreement when a word is used in the same context in both languages, but have slightly different meanings.

When I was sixteen years old, I lived in France for a year. At one point, my French mother and I were talking about religion and she called the Mormon church a "culte." I was offended on behalf of my Mormon friends and tried to explain to her that in the United States, the Mormon church isn't considered a "culte." We didn't connect on the meaning, mostly because I was an obstinate teenager committed to being offended.

Today, I was walking to school and saw this sign pointing the way to the "Eglise Wallone" (Wallonne Church). I was looking at the sign's usage of the word "culte" and realized that it must have a different meaning than I thought twenty years ago. So, thanks again to the Internet, I came back here and researched the etimology of the word in French.*

The world "culte" in French does not mean the same thing as in English as a derogatory term to imply a group worshiping an unworthy idol or figure. In French, it has a few different usages - one being a group / sect / splinter group of a Religious order. For example, Protestantism is a "culte" of Christianity. Also, it connotes going to church. As in "We are going to "culte" (church) on Sunday." This differs from "l'eglise" which means the building, not an activity. It also means "worship" as in "Worship at 11:00 a.m.," which is what the sign above says.

Live and learn.

*Mom, you might find this interesting. Go to and put in any word in French. You can then select what you'd like to do - search the etimology, synonyms, antonyms, etc.

No comments: