False Friends in Pharma

Spanish-English false friendsOne trap that new language learners fall into is presuming that words that look or sound alike have the same meaning in both languages. Spanish/English speakers soon discover that being embarrassed isn’t the same as “estar embarazada” and that “tener un constipado” isn’t the same as being constipated. For another angle on false friends, check out what Mox has to say at the bottom of this post. 

False friends continue to crop up at more advanced stages of language learning and professional translators must be familiar with the ones that are unique to their particular field. I revised a pharmaceutical translation recently and was first amused and later horrified to see the number of false friends that had crept into an unknowing translator’s work.

I thought I’d list them here (and I’ve added a couple more) in the hope that future accidents may be prevented.

Spanish False friend English translation
Acondicionamiento Conditioning Packaging
One of the final stages in the manufacturing process of a medicinal product
Acondicionamiento primario Primary packaging* Immediate packaging
This packaging comes into contact with the medicinal product itself, e.g. blister pack.
* “Primary packaging” is correct for manufacturing procedures, but “immediate packaging” is used for EMA product information.
Bibliografía Bibliography References
List of publications referred to when writing a paper/protocol/SOP
Confinamiento Confinement Containment
When a biological agent is confined to a specific space, this is referred to as “containment” in English, not “confinement”
Cuantificación Quantification Quantitation
While the false friend “quantification” is technically correct, in a pharmaceutical context, quantitation is the word that is used
Esclusa Sluice Air-lock
This is a space between two rooms that require different levels of cleanliness, to control the air flow between the two. NB, on a hospital ward, a sluice is a dirty room.
Especialidad Speciality Medicinal product
Muestra adicionada Added sample Spiked sample
These blanks or samples have analytes added to them for validation purposes
Muestra problema Problem sample Test sample
Principio activo Active principle (see context below)
Drug substance (in the context of manufacturing procedures), active substance (for product information) or active pharmaceutical ingredient (API, for clinical trials)
Procedimiento Normalizado de Trabajo Standard Work Procedure Standard Operating Procedure
A written set of instructions to define how a certain process must be carried out. Often abbreviated to PNT (in Spanish) and SOP (in English).
Prospecto Prospectus Package leaflet
Patient instructions on how to take the medicinal product
Reactivos Reactives Reagents
Substances added to cause a chemical reaction
Riqueza Richness Concentration
This refers to the concentration of the drug substance
Tamaño de luz Light size Pore size
Mesh size in a filter
Tiempo de espera Waiting time Withdrawal period
While waiting time may be right in some contexts, in veterinary medicine, “withdrawal period” is the time needed to ensure that residues from drug administration do not enter the food chain. (*Thanks, Anna Romero, for this contribution)
Un solo uso One use only Single use
This often comes as an adjective, e.g., single-use filter
Valoración Valuation Assay
Quantitative determination of a substance

In Mox’s Blog, Lena has a slightly different idea of what false friends are:

Have you come across any other false friends in pharma? Please add a comment below if you’d like to contribute to the list!

Image attribution: © treenabeena – Fotolia.com
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17 Responses to False Friends in Pharma

  1. Thanks, Emma.Your posts always go directly to my “Useful and Important References” folder!

  2. Yvonne Becker says:

    Excellent entry. I usually translate from English into Spanish, but your examples are very useful. Regards, Yvonne

  3. Mark Bogan says:

    Hi Emma,
    Once again you have produced something of great use to the rest of us out here on the front lines.
    Thank you for sharing it.
    Mark Bogan

  4. Excellent as always, Emma! “Quantitation” is a pet peeve of mine; no one seems to know it’s a proper word and I’ve had more than one proofreader switch to “quantification” instead. (I’d nix “primary packaging”, though—it’s not a false friend but the actual term of art, at least in AmE.)

    • Thanks for picking up on the use of “primary packaging”, Filippe. You’re right, it’s not always a false friend, so I’ve added a note above to clarify this.

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  8. ¡Gracias, Emma! Disfruto mucho tus seminarios.
    Natalia Moreno, PressWorks Translation & Interpreting

  9. Thanks Emma! I translate into Spanish and this is not my field, but your posts always have something that’s certain to come in handy in the future.
    Have a great week.

  10. Terence Lewis says:

    Hi Emma,
    A good subject for a little paper at a future ITI Conference 🙂
    Saludos y hasta la primera!

  11. Anna Romero says:

    Hi Emma!
    Hace unos meses que sigo tu blog y me parece sumamente interesante todo lo que publicas. Trabajo únicamente con medicamentos de uso veterinario, por lo que uno de los ejemplos que me gustaría compartir es el de “tiempo de espera”. En inglés, el equivalente es “withdrawal period”, el tiempo que se ha de esperar desde que se administra un medicamento hasta poder obtener la carne, huevos o leche del animal tratado. No sería “waiting period”…. No sé si es muy útil, pero dejo el comentario para poder asomar la nariz por primera vez en este blog tan recomendable. ¡Felicidades! Anna.-

  12. Nelida K. says:

    Lucía Colombino and I not only live in the same city, but we usually think along the same lines. I was going to leave a comment that almost exactly would replicate hers, so just let me say that I am always able to take away something from your posts, regardless of the fact that I don’t work in the field. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Agostina says:

    ¡Hola Emma!

    Muy buen artículo, lo tengo en mis favoritos ya que de vez en cuando hago traducciones médicas. ¡Gracias por tus aportes!

  14. EP says:

    It’s not really about pharmaceuticals or anything, but one of my favorite German false friends is the word for health-food shop: Reformhaus.

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