An actual video
One question, asked by a manager to a designer, started off my collection of quirky mistranslations:
How does the user know this is an actual video?
It’s a legitimate question: how do we show users that something really is a video? The designer went off, did some research, created prototypes, and tested them with people. Time and money were spent making sure users could identify something as a video.
When presented with the suggested solution a few days later, the manager repeated the question:
“This is nice, but how does the user know this is an actual video?”
The request seems confusing, unless you know the manager’s real intention. They wanted to highlight a video’s freshness, or how new it was. Unfortunately, a wrong translation changed the question’s meaning.
The German word “aktuell” translates to “current”, which is what the manager should have used. Instead, they went for what seems like a translation but isn’t: “actual”, meaning “tatsächlich”.
While they seem almost identical, “aktuell” and “actual” are not translations of each other. We call words that look like each other but have different meanings “false friends”.
Replacing “actual” with “current” drastically changes the question’s meaning. Both versions are grammatically correct, which makes the mistake difficult to spot.
When you are looking for today’s news, you want current news. When you are avoiding fake news, you want actual news.
If you want to know how old someone is, you are looking for their current age. Think they are lying to you? Ask them for their actual age.
I promise this lesson will start paying off immediately. When you encounter a situation in which it applies, tell me about it with an tweet to @domhabersack!
All lessons in this course
An actual video
Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.Read full lesson