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This "puzzle" is open-ended and I don't have an answer in mind. But it's not a good fit for any other StackExchange, and I bet puzzlers will enjoy it, so here it is.

Reading about nominalism, I encountered the idea that perhaps the sentence "2+2=4" is "true in mathematics" but not true in real life — in fact, nonsensical in real life (for the reason that, in real life, there is no such thing as "2"). Meanwhile, the sentence "Cows have four feet" is true in English but nonsensical in, say, French (for the reason that, in French, "Cows" is not even a real word). This suggested to me the following puzzle:

Write a sentence which is true in English but false in French. (Or any two languages of your choice.)

Notice that simple self-referential sentences, like "This sentence is written in English," will tend to be true in English and nonsensical as French, which is not what I'm looking for at all. I'm looking for something more like a polyglot program, where the truth of the sentence depends on which language you assume it's written in.

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    $\begingroup$ There's a joke about a Spanish speaker going into a clothing store and asking for "calcetines." The English-speaking clerk, puzzled, brings item after item: shirts, pants, belts, shoes... Finally he brings a pair of socks. The Spanish speaker lights up: "Eso sí que es!" "Well, if you could have spelled it...!" grumbles the clerk. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry I have to ask, but, can you explain the joke for non-Spanish speakers? :D $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Apr 14 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @justhalf: Calcetines is the Spanish word for socks. "Eso sí que es" (lit. "That yes which is") means "That's exactly/certainly it!" and is also pronounced almost exactly the same as the English letters "S-O C K S", which (as far as the clerk is concerned) just spells "socks." $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ ohhh! haha, didn't realize that sounds like the spelling, haha $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Apr 14 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Here's a joke for the Dutch speakers: On a large cargo ship at night, a sailor from Groningen was leaning on the railing, staring off to the horizon. A British sailor joins him, leans on the railing, looks across the calm dark sea, sighs, and says "A quiet night". The other man contemplates in silence a while, then slowly shakes his head, and answers " A quiet oak night". [Explanation: this is how someone from Groningen would pronounce "Ik weet 't ook niet", meaning "I don't know either"] $\endgroup$ May 2 at 8:33

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"Albert Einstein is slim"

In English this sentence is false. In Dutch, it is true because it translates to

"Albert Einstein is smart/intelligent"

Edit One more:

"Peer is fruit"

In Dutch it is true, it translates to:

"Pear is fruit"


and some funny ones I once heard, but are not 100% correct. (More like they sound the same):

I have a careful mother = Ik heb een kar vol modder
dutch translation: I have a car full of mud

He was brave in the war = Hij was braaf in de war
dutch translation: He was well behaved confused

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    $\begingroup$ Are you calling Einstein fat? :D $\endgroup$
    – hexomino
    Apr 25 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ That's clever. I suppose hard mode would be not using any proper names. $\endgroup$
    – Jafe
    Apr 26 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @hexomino, I couldn't think of any famous obese scientist, haha. But at least Einstein wasn't skinny :) $\endgroup$
    – Lezzup
    Apr 26 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Quuxplusone I get why this answer doesn't satisfy you enough, but if you add beauty criteria a posteriori, you have to edit them in your original post, else there's no valid reason to reject this answer and more people will post unsatisfying (but kinda correct) answers. And if you do please be very precise in what you mean by "beautiful"/statisfying e.g. more than two words that have different meanings in the languages and undeniable truth value of the statements. $\endgroup$
    – Fluorine
    Apr 26 at 16:19
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Probably not a satisfying answer (because the truth value of the sentences depends on the context), but I can't yet comment and this is relevant to the question.

There are examples of sentences that are constructed with words that are valid both in French and English and so that both versions make sense grammatically. I heard of this one:

Jean put dire comment on tape.

(in French this means "Jean was able to say how one types"). According to my googling, source is the book Dictionnaire Extraordinaire des Mots Ordinaires by René Droin.

It might be possible to construct a better example using the words in Harry Mathews' Corpus (a list of words valid both in French and English).

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    $\begingroup$ Tihs is brilliant. I'd say that the dissatisfaction lies not with this answer but with how the question is worded. Instead of "true in one language and false in another" it should really be "means something completely different in another language" in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Apr 26 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ This is brilliant (and I'll try to dig up that book, and look at that corpus). Still I really am hoping for "true in one language and false in another," because of the puzzle's genesis in epistemology. It's nice to be able to display a sentence that is ambiguous, but it'd be great to display a sentence that is objectively true or objectively false depending on what language you assume it's written in. (Metaphorically we do this all the time: "Pegasus is visible" depending on whether we assume mythological "language" or real-world "language." But to have a literal example...!) $\endgroup$ Apr 26 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly useful: Harry Mathews' Corpus points out that inhabitable means one thing in English and the exact opposite in French. $\endgroup$ Apr 26 at 16:13
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"True" sentence in English

Kind elf will gift

Translated from German ("False")

Child eleven wants poison

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Je es malo.

Czech: Je es málo. "There are few aces." (true)
Spanish: Je es malo. "J is evil" (false)

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Video sex consoles.

Latin: Video sex consoles. "I see six consuls." (true)
English: "Video sex consoles." (false)

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    $\begingroup$ "ConSOLES" as an (intransitive) verb in English, I suppose? I dispute whether "I see six consuls" is in fact true. But this and your other answer are both very cleverly crafted! Thank you! $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 3:21
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Not a real answer, but

I VITELLI DEI ROMANI SONO BELLI

is a sentence that can be read both as Italian ("Romans' veals are beautiful") and Latin ("Go, Vitellius, following the war sound of the Roman god").

There are other examples of similar Italian/Latin phrases.

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The best I could come up with is accidentally true (it depends on the context of who is writing it). You may also need to play fast and loose with punctuation.

"My pot of wat is well here"

In Afrikaans, this means "My pot (or whatever) is doing well, Lord."

Bonus #1 (not a submission because it is in the imperative) is a joke about an Englishman attending an Afrikaans church and fearing for his life because embossed in large letters on the pulpit the words "DIE HERE". Which, in Afrikaans, naturally means "THE LORD".

Bonus #2 is that in certain US pronunciations, "Buy a donkey" sounds like "baie dankie" which is Afrikaans for "Thank you very much".

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1=='1'

Evaluates to false in more than half of programming languages, evaluates to true in more than half of programming languages with implicit type conversion. (And also evaluates to true by intuition.)

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    $\begingroup$ I'm hoping for human sentences, not computer-language programs (where the notion of polyglot programming is indeed well-trodden ground :)). Still, thank you! This answer could be improved by adding concrete examples (maybe a table) of languages where the expression is true (JavaScript, Perl, ...) resp. false (Python, C, C++, Ruby, ...), rather than relying on the easily-arguably-untrue word "most." $\endgroup$ Apr 29 at 15:50
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Do sentence fragments count? One that comes to mind is a not too uncommon label that might light up on Danish elevator call buttons.

I Fart

In English, thankfully, that statement is untrue.

In Danish, all it means in that context is that the elevator is moving.

(There are a number of other things that come to mind in Scandinavian languages - what "rolig" means in Danish vs Swedish (calm vs fun), or "at grine" in Danish vs Norwegian (to laugh vs to cry) - but I can't come up with a sentence that is valid in all three of them.)

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