03 May 2010


Here is a picture from page 2 of the Media Permata of 3 May, 2010.The caption under the picture might be translated as: "Fragrant rice which was found in the bonnet of a car and which it is believed was being smuggled out of Brunei to a neighbouring country, but which was seized in an operation that took place yesterday."

The trouble with this is that the rice is clearly in the back of the car, and in British English we call this the boot rather than the bonnet (Americans call it the trunk rather than the hood). It seems that in Brunei bonet can unexpectedly refer to the back of the car rather than the front.

We can call this a faux amis (or 'false friend'): you think you know the meaning of a word, but in fact you don't.

A faux amis can occur when a word is borrowed from one language into another and then it undergoes a shift in meaning. A classic example is the French word librarie, which looks like it means 'library' but in fact means 'bookshop'. The word was borrowed from French into English and then its meaning shifted, and it is not surprising if this can lead to confusion for English learners of French and also for French learners of English.

My Brunei Malay dictionary confirms that bunit (the Brunei equivalent of bonet) indeed refers to the back of the car, though I am not sure if this shift in meaning is only found in Brunei or if it is also true for the Malay spoken in Malaysia and Singapore.