Language Confusion Buster: ‘Dried Fruit’ Is Not What You May Think It Is

On my arrival in Spain, I noticed that many local shops featured the words “Frutos Secos”, which, directly translated, means ‘dried fruit’, on their signage. It did make me wonder whether dried fruit was the equivalent of hot cakes in Spain, or why else would a little shop keeper spend his hard earned money on advertising this on his (surely quite expensive) shop sign? Here’s a corner shop close to my house in Toledo:

Whatch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You'll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin' back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

Whatch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You’ll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin’ back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

But my bafflement over dried fruits’ powers of customer attraction isn’t really what I was going to talk about. (Besides, I’ve since figured out that “Frutos Secos” is a generic term for this kind or establishment, to which, in the UK, we’d refer to as a “corner shop”.) So, as I discovered a few months down the line, frutos secos are not what an English (or a German) speaker would naturally assume them to be, i.e. this stuff:

DriedFruitNo, for a Spanish speaker, frutos secos is this:

MixedNuts

Dried fruit, it turns out, is “fruta deshidratada”, which, at least, is not totally counter-intuitive.

The conundrum was not quite resolved, however. There was yet another twist in store for me.

If frutos secos means nuts, I wondered, I  what the hell are “nueces”?? I I took that to signify nuts. Nuez/Nueces sounds just like nut/nuts and Nuss/Nüsse in English and German, respectively.

Una nuez

Una nuez

Well, it turns out that nueces, in fact, are walnuts, and not nuts in general. Up to that point, I’d been referring to all kinds of nuts as nueces. Ooops.

As to the difference between fruto and fruta: Fruta is what you will find in a fruit bowl, while fruto is a more general term describing not only nuts and inedible fruits produced by all manner of plants, but also the “fruits” of one’s labours (el fruto de tus labores), the fruit of Mary’s blessed womb aka Jesus (el fruto de tu vientre), etc.

Have you been using a word in another language incorrectly for ages, only to discover much later that it was, in fact, one of those treacherous ‘false friends’?

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78 thoughts on “Language Confusion Buster: ‘Dried Fruit’ Is Not What You May Think It Is

  1. Bastet

    Ah the false friends of the world…frutta secca is dried fruit in Italian too, referring to both of your pictures, and noci are walnuts and nuts in general, but the Italians often called nuts, frutta secca when they want to talk generally about nuts…all nutty to me. 😉

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      1. Bastet

        Same-o same-o I think…takes years of living in the confusion to make some sense of it…but then it’s probably true for those who come to live in and English or German speaking country. 😉

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      2. Bastet

        Exactly, which is why I felt my job, teaching English as a second language, was really pretty useless. You can maybe get the basics through lessons, but you’ve got to be somewhere you can really use the language if you want to learn it.

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      3. Bastet

        I’m happier now doing conversation with groups who have a grounding. That I don’t feel is useless, and probably the other isn’t either. 🙂

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      4. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I might be starting to do that soon – giving conversation classes to more advanced learners. I couldn’t handle a beginner’s class.
        People can reach a good level without ever leaving the country except for holidays. It’s the colloquial language, though, that’s almost impossible to acquire unless you’re living in that country where the language is spoken.

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      1. Expat Eye

        Yup, even names! See below! (Someone sent me this on FB after the Eric Clapton debacle 😉 )
        Case endings:
        Eriks (nominative)
        Erika (genitive)
        Erikam (dative)
        Eriku (accusative)
        Ar Eriku (instrumentalis)
        Eriku (locative)
        Erik! (vocative)

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        OK, September’s project for you will be to get to grips with the 8 forms of Janis, then you can competently decline all Latvian males, instead of employing that wrist flick 😉

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  2. Anna

    I do have a mild terminology confusion that has to do with my fondest pastime here – horseback riding. Basically, there are 5 main horse gaits: walk, trot, canter, gallop and pace (which almost nobody uses on horseback, but is the default on camel-back). All of those have proper translations into Russian, and eng. GALLOP translates into rus. GALOP. However, Russian GALOP is actually equivalent to the western canter, which is a relaxed/slow gallop, during which at least one of horse’s legs always maintains contact with the ground. But what is called a gallop in the west – the really fast pace, like at the races, in Russian is referred to CORRER, from the Spanish ‘to run.’

    Basically, whenever I tell my foreign friends how I spent all weekend working on a proper gallop (because that’s all I hear from my trainer in Russian!) I sound like a MUCH more proficient equestrian than I really am.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      And there’s me still getting confused about a German billion and British one.

      I’d never heard of ‘pace’ before in that context. You always learn something new!

      Do you own a horse, btw?

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      1. Anna

        OH I WISH! My own horse, my own Barbarian Bavarian (or a Scottish Highlander), and my own modest manor in southern Scotland – the only things missing in my life!

        Pace is not used for riding really, just for exhibitions etc. It’s kind of funky. Is riding a popular pastime in Germany? Or is it one of those things that if they grew up in a farming region, they can just gallop bareback as soon as they can walk?

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        LOL, no, it’s not that common a pastime in Bavaria, and very few farms have horses. Of course, there are places where you can go horse riding, I went a few times as a kid.
        That’s quite some wish list you’ve got there…

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      3. Anna

        Reaching for the stars, and all that 🙂
        Because I live downtown, I just cant get our to the stables during the week, so it makes no sense to own a horse. If I lived in the country, that would be a whole another story altogether…

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      4. everywherebuthome

        Pacing, at least in American English (as opposed to Western) terminology, is a counterpart to trotting, except that the horse moves both legs on the same side at the same time, instead of simultaneously moving two legs diagonal from the other.

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  3. zubiriland

    I had a lot of confusions like these when I live in Spain for my spanish summer courses in barcelona. I was talking with my classmates and I said I was “embarazado”, trying to say “embarrassed” in spanish, but this word means “pregnant”. They started to laugh so I felt something was going wrong… 😛
    Martin

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      1. Anna

        Check it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1,000,000,000 The term milliard can also be used to refer to 1,000,000,000; though “milliard” is essentially non-existent in English, variations on this name often appear in other languages (e.g. Danish milliard, Spanish millardo, French milliard, German Milliarde, Hebrew מיליארד, Finnish miljardi or Russian миллиард).

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  4. grrrriff

    It’s not a false friend per se, but I did have an awkward situation using the verb ‘jouir’ in French. My dictionary told me it meant ‘to enjoy’, and I told a French-speaking friend ‘enjoy the book you’re reading/jouis du livre que tu lis’ only to have her inform me that ‘jouir’ is almost exclusively used as a vulgar term for ‘to ejaculate’.

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  5. Ashley

    The place where I eat lunch often has “espaghetti con frutos del mar” as one of their options. Spaghetti with fruits of the sea? It’s spaghetti with seafood sauce.

    I don’t really know how to correctly use the word “fruto” either.

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  6. Anonymous

    aggggg…false friends!!!!!!! jajajaja…my eternal enemy…
    About the difference between “fruta” and “fruto” it depends on the context…we talk about “fruta” regarding a “food context”,by example…you “comes fruta de postre” and “fruto” regarding a “vegetable context” by example…”ese arbol no da frutos”…hope this can explain it!!!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yeah, I kind of had an inkling that “frutos” is a more general term of something being the ‘product’ of something… e.g also in the biblical context ‘fruto del vientre’, and that fruta is the sweet stuff you eat as a snack or for dessert, e.g. an orange or a cherry.
      Thanks for helping to clear the haze 🙂

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      1. everywherebuthome

        I had the fruta/fruto thing explained to me recently but don’t remember the exact difference; largely, it seemed to correspond with the botanical/nutritional division among definitions of fruit. So an apple is a fruta, and a tomato (botanically a fruit) is a fruto. Unless I’ve got them switched.

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      2. Aethersea

        I speak Portuguese, not Spanish, but we also have “frutas” and “frutos.” I think you’ve got the distinction right. A fruta is a fruit, like apples and bananas and oranges. I would never call it a fruto, which I tend to hear in things like “frutos do mar” (seafood, literally fruits of the sea). A fruto is a product, as you say. (The expression “fruits of their labor” keeps running through my head. I’m not technically a native speaker of Portuguese, but I don’t think you can use frutos in that context. It’s even possible it’s just for use in specific expressions.)
        As for nuts, I recently discovered that “noz” is used both as a blanket term for “nut” and also as the proper name for walnuts, but probably because walnuts are the only kind of nut not to have their own name (unlike peanuts and cashews and such). Why that is, I have no idea.
        I don’t know how similar this is to Spanish. I’d be interested if you found out 😀

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      3. ladyofthecakes Post author

        This is an intriguing investigation, thanks very much for contributing! Usage also seems to vary across Spanish-speaking countries.
        Am learning Portuguese, so that gives the whole thing a new twist 😉

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  7. caseybean13

    Last night, I told a French guy that I was “troublée” and he smiled proudly/with some confusion and explained to me that instead of “troubled,” troublée often means distracted by the charm of a member of the opposite sex–thoroughly seduced. I don’t know if this is actually a thing, or if he was hitting on/successfully flustering me. Any french speaker’s input is welcome on this one! 😀

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  8. El Inmigrante

    I love this post! It made me laugh not because of your confusion but mine as well. I come from Peru, and over there, we call nueces to all kind of nuts. I’m not sure if this right or not. I also had the same idea that you had about frutos secos. So you are not alone in this.
    Spanish has so many dialects that we, the Spanish native speakers, dont even know. We also get confused in this rich language.

    About fruto vs. fruta, I found this explanation in English. I hope it is a bit clear now ;).

    According to the RAE official Spanish language dictionary, fruto is the product of a plant. A tree bearing fruit…that would be el fruto.

    Fruta, on the other hand, is the edible fruit that a plant produces, like pears, apples, peaches, etc.

    When fruits in general are referred to in masculine form, it is usually referring to the tree or the product the tree produces.

    La manzana= apple. El manzano=apple tree
    La naranja=orange. El naranjo= orange tree
    La cereza= cherry. El cerezo= cherry tree

    When referring to the fruit you eat, it is usually the feminine one.

    Also, “frutos secos” refers to nuts like cashews, peanuts, etc.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Thanks for this, I’m glad I’m not the only one 🙂
      And yes, like English, I realise that Spanish vocab varies considerably across different countries. I look forward to learning more about this in the coming years!

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  9. Veronica

    I hoped you were going to explain why Spain (especially Andalucia) has so many shops dedicated to frutos secos! There was one near where we stayed in Madrid that also made crisps on the premises.

    PS fruits secs are the same in French, and noix = nuez I’m glad there are some true friends between French and Spanish!

    PPS from the comments I see Latvian uses the same noun cases as Latin! But you do have some noun cases in German don’t you (accusative/genitive)? Or am I mis-remembering? (it’s a long time since I seriously attempted to communicate in German).

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Well, I was hoping somebody was going to explain this frutos secos phenomenon to me, i.e. why there are so many shops who advertise them 😉
      Yes, German has Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, and Dative, and nouns and verbs are declined accordingly. It’s a total nightmare for learners…

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  10. pollyheath

    I hate false friends! (I was also totally faked out by frutos secos — I would have thought the same as you.) Russian has a lot of these — words that have been taken from English but don’t mean the exact same thing. I often find myself using “inteligentniy” as meaning “intelligent” when it’s actually “cultured”. Boo.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Ah yes… ‘educado’ doesn’t quite mean educated either, but ‘well brought up’ and ‘having good manners’, as far as I can gather. There are tons of those. ‘Importante’ also doesn’t mean ‘important’ all of the time, though often it does. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on ‘fickle friends’, lol.

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  11. gina4star

    I like to think I’m a competent Spanish speaker… but I’m pretty useless at things like this. I still take an educated guess whether to use por or para. And as for false friends, uff there are too many! No tengo ni idea!

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  12. Tim

    The only one I can think of off-hand is the word S-Bahn, which I was convinced for a long time was an abbreviation for Straßenbahn. I also remember being extremely confused by the expressions “Was bekommen Sie?” and “Kann ich Ihnen was Gutes tun?” the first time I heard them ^^

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Ta! Still not entirely clear…. for example, in the Hail Mary prayer, it says “el fruto de tu vientre”, when to my mind, “the fruit” is more of a concept in this context than a real piece of fruit…?

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      1. Neil Gratton

        Ah, I thought we were talking about plant produce.

        In your example, we’re talking about ‘the single item produced by your womb’. The fruit of her womb – Jesus – is a single, concrete thing, not a general concept.

        In the same vein, we could say “El fruto de mis esfuerzos” (the fruit/result of my labour); some specific thing created by my hard work.

        It’s interesting to do a language-specific google search to help clarify differences (although the results here are very plant-y so don’t really help with the more abstract uses we just talked about); try these two searches: http://images.google.es/?q=fruto and http://images.google.es/?q=fruta

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