This word refers, in American English, to a type of sausage most commonly encountered as an extremely cheap lunchmeat (on which I survived in my early penniless days in NYC); it is pronounced the way the WWII-era exclamation derived from it is spelled: baloney. I just discovered that the corresponding Russian word болонья (bolon’ya), as in English a lower-case use of the Italian city name, means ‘lightweight waterproof material; a raincoat made of such material.’ Talk about your false friends!


  1. I was just wanting a false-cognate thread. A favorite is the Spanish “bizarro”, which means “dashing, spitited, gallant, generous”. I had another one from German but I lost it.
    BTW, Brad DeLong has something on “it’s”, which he thinks is legit on analogy with “John’s”, etc., and also something on the serial comma. So the hat lantern is lit.

  2. I used to sincerely believe that bologna (pronouced ba-LO-nya) and baloney were two different lunch meats.
    Do loan-words that have undergone odd shifts in meaning count as false cognates? In Japan, a chivalrous and noble man is a “feminist.”

  3. For me “false cognates” and “false friends” are not the same thing. “false cognates” are words that on superficial inspection appear to be descended from a common source but in fact are not. “false friends” are words that look or sound similar and so give rise to the expectation that they have the same meaning, but don’t. They may or may not be cognate. Insofar as Spanish bizarro and English bizarre have the same source, they may be true cognates but they are nonetheless false friends because their meanings are different.

  4. zizka: Thanks for the DeLong heads-up; I added my (well, mainly the OED’s) two cents.
    Emily: I used to sincerely believe that bologna (pronouced ba-LO-nya) and baloney were two different lunch meats
    That’s great! Was the former the higher-priced spread?

  5. An example of a loan-word with meaning shift: un/ein/uno “smoking” is a formal jacket/suit – dinner jacket or tux – in at least French, German, Spanish and Italian. In Spanish it can also be spelled “esmoquín”, that is, spelled as it’s pronounced in Spanish – does this happen to “smoking” in the other languages?

  6. “Compromiso” in Spanish means commitment, not compromise. This sometimes leads to amusing results when the English version of a Spanish-language corporate website is created by someone with a “little” English. Meaning to talk about their commitment to quality, the company proudly claims to compromise quality. This isn’t apocryphal; you can easily find examples by googling on {compromise quality} with site:mx, site:es, site:ar, etc.

  7. bolon’ya
    My OUP Pocket Russian Dictionary is even more specific: “(cape of) waterproof nylon”. I’d love to know the etymology.

  8. Steve Shabad gave a presentation at the 2001 American Translator’s Association annual conference titled, “Russian-Englsih Cognates That Go Their Own Way.” I dug up a link to the list he gave out. Some of you might be interested in reading it:
    A Sampling of False Cognates: Russian-English
    He did a follow-up the next year at the conference in Atlanta, but I can’t find a digital copy of that one.

  9. Thanks, that’s incredibly useful! If you find the follow-up, by all means let me know.

  10. English doesn’t have a general word for kolbasy, and indeed an average American grocery carries a limited selection of kolbasnye izdeliya. Bologna more or less corresponds to varyonaya kolbasa but bolonskaya kolbasa is a type of bologna larded with bits of olives, pepper and other vegetables.

  11. The very worst sort of false friend — close enough that you’re lured into buying the wrong thing. If I want bologna, the last thing I want is “bits of olives, pepper and other vegetables”!
    So what does kolbasa cover besides sausage? (Clearly, I’ve never lived in Russia or I’d know.)

  12. scarabaeus stercus says

    By not opening a dictionary, I was under the impression that Baloney was saxon corruption of the Irish Bally this Bally that, telling all those ‘wonderfull’ stories of little fairies and wee people from “Bally (e.g. Ballyjamesduff) can mean town, but originally meant an area belonging to a particular clan or tribe
    ” for which one answered “be sure now witch leg ye be pulling, thence evolved to that sausage like item, did it have real meat[live] with all those strange items in it.

  13. It’s going to take some time to explain, I’m afraid. For now, here’s a classification of sausage from Hormel Foods:
    The right picture in the next to last row and the left pic in the bottom row look like bolonskaya kolbasa.

  14. Back in the 1970s when I still ate stuff like that I’d call bolonskaya kolbasa (as Alexi describes it) a pimento loaf (also spelled pimiento loaf).

  15. That’s the phrase that occurred to me as well. I wonder if that reasonably common term occurs in any bilingual dictionary? It’s not in my monster-size Larousse. Once again I lament the lack of attention paid to culinary terms by lexicographers.

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