When the push comes to the shove, what kind of constipation would you prefer?

Beware false friends. These are words that look very similar in two different languages but have different meanings.

When a Portuguese friend of mine first arrived in Australia she had absolutely no knowledge of English (and even now she cannot distinguish between “shits“, “shirts” and “sheets“), she was feeling ill so she went to a doctor complaining of “constipacão“. She was very happy to be given medication for this, but could not understand why for the next few days she did not get better – and she kept having to run to the loo.

What went wrong? Well, while “constipacão” does indeed mean “constipated” in Portuguese as in English, it has another meaning in popular usage in Portuguese, hence the false friend:

  • constipacão a common cold
  • pegar uma constipacãoto catch a cold
  • constipado 1. constipated; 2. suffering from a cold
  • constipar1. to constipate, cause a constipation; 2. to catch a cold.

My friend had the flu, and she had been given laxatives.

cold-156666_1280If in doubt, a safer word to use in Portuguese for a cold is resfriado (related to frio, which means cold in temperature, and resfriar, to cool again)

  • peguei um resfriado I caught a cold
  • ele está resfriado – he has a cold

Resfriado can also mean chilled, iced or frozen, while resfriamento is the act or process of cooling: hence coluna de resfriamento, a cooling tower.

I suppose in a future post I will have to study constipation in the other Romance languages.

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