False Friends = False Equivalence

About a month ago I posted the following,

“For most of our readership you know about the term False Friends. This is a term co-opted by Mark Ward which is usually used in the context of comparing foreign languages. Still, Ward thought it best to bring the term into a comparison of English with English.”

Since then, Ward has yet to adjust his approach and so we are compelled to return to this point. In the comments of this post I observed that Ward has put forward both a strawman fallacy and the fallacy of special pleading yet to be address. Here, as we will shortly see, Ward continues his run of logical fallacies and that of false equivalence.

See, “false friend” is not a term which applies to words within a single language e.g., comparing English with English. Within the scholarly literature in the field of linguistics, the term “false friend” is used when comparing different languages, e.g., English and German. Consider the following definitions,

false friend

/ˌfôls ˈfrend/


noun: false friend; plural noun: false friends

1. a word or expression that has a similar form to one in a person’s native language, but a different meaning (for example English magazine and French magasin ‘shop’).

Oxford Languages and Google


Noun Linguistics

a word in one language that is similar in form or sound to a word in another language but has a different meaning and may or may not be etymologically related: for example, English gift “present” and German Gift “poison” are false friends.



a word that is often confused with a word in another language with a different meaning because the two words look or sound similar

The French word ”actuellement” and the English word ”actually are false friends.


Here is a definition from the scholarly journal repository JSTOR,

“False friends” appear or sound like words in their own language, but have different meanings in others. They give us insight into how language changes.


And the list of definitions go on and on. False friends in the field of Linguistics are words that have same or similar form in two different languages but mean very different things. Among linguistics, false friends are also called bilingual homophones i.e., two similar looking words from two different languages that sound the same but mean something different. For example, gift in English means ”present” and Gift in German means ”poison”. The shape and/or sound of the word is the same in both languages but the meaning is very different.

So what Ward has done is he has taken a technical term and infused it with either his own definition or at best some obscure definition. Ward insists on using “false friend” in the context of comparing English with English when of course the rest of the world uses “false friend” in the context of comparing different languages. In sum, it seems that Ward’s use of “false friend” is by his own invented definition a ”false friend”. It seems he is using the term ”false friend” thinking he understands what it means but in the end does not [His definition of ”false friend” does not readily appear in linguistic studies literature if it exists at all]. The better word for him to use would be homonym. More on that later.

But perhaps Ward thinks that KJV English is another language, you say. It does not appear so in that he admits that the KJV is readily accessible apart from a relatively small percentage of archaic or dead words. What is more, KJV English is known as Early Modern English, where we currently speak Modern English. So this can be no answer as to why Ward insists that the technical term ”false friend” would mean what he thinks it means unless of course he made it up, which Ph.D.’s do all the time, myself included.

Still, this kind of made up definition of a term already in use is bad form and bad practice. Take for instance the field of Theology and the term justification. Justification is generally understood in Protestant circles as meaning ”to declare righteous.” Now imagine someone comes along and says that justification also means “a declaration of divine simplicity”. No one else in the field of Theology holds to this additional definition. Both use the term ”declare” but after that the definitions diverge considerably.

In fact, given the first definition, the second definition seems profoundly disjoined even absurd. To make matters worse, this someone makes no attempt to recognize that justification means “to declare righteous” nor does this someone attempt to connect his definition with the received definition.

Put more concretely, Ward no where recognizes that “false friend” is exclusively or nearly exclusively used in terms of comparing two or more different languages. Furthermore, he makes no attempt to show that ”false friend” can and does apply when comparing one’s native language with itself.

This is where the logical fallacy of false equivalence comes into the picture. Ward’s whole program in its entirety is based on drawing an equivalence between the received definition of “false friend” in the field of Linguistics [subject 1] and his personal definition of “false friend” [subject 2] because they share similarities within the sphere of Linguistics while ignoring the significant differences between them i.e., false friend is only used in the context of comparing similar words or same sounding words originating from different languages. This is the very definition of a false equivalency.

Halt means “stop” in a Modern context and “limp” in Early Modern English context, but that is merely a homonym i.e., two words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings [e.g., “can” as in able and ”can” as in a container]. Why won’t Ward simply call ”halt” is a homonym? What is more, halt as “stop” and halt as “limp” is not a bilingual homonym. Halt is a regular old garden variety homonym. Why? Because halt as “stop” is English and halt as “limp” is also English, indeed, Modern English of the earlier sort. The bilingual part is missing, and without this part you have no false friend. Ward has not demonstrated that Early Modern English “halt” is from a different language therefore his comparison of Modern ”halt” with Early Modern “halt” is not a comparison between two languages therefore ”halt” cannot be a false friend. Therefore Ward’s argument seems to disintegrate under its own weight and criteria.

In sum, Ward’s entire program is based on a logical fallacy and that of false equivalence. What is worse is that he charges the Bible with false friends, defines false friends as words we think we understand but don’t; only for us to observe that Ward’s use of “false friend” seems to indicate that he thinks he understands what “false friend” means but really he doesn’t given his prolific misuse of the term. Furthermore, he gives no robust reasoning for redefining “false friend” to use it in the way he does. In short, Ward charges the KJV of doing the very same thing he is doing by making that charge.

I really appreciate Ward’s demeanor and candor. I think he has lowered the temperature of this discussion in some sectors, but how many obvious and unaddressed logical fallacies must we endure from his arguments before we write Ward off as a pseudo-scholar/“influencer” propounding theology worthy only for a bumper sticker? Or as the ancients would put it, a sophist.

Got False Friends?

2 thoughts on “False Friends = False Equivalence

  1. So Mark Ward’s use of the term “false friend” is actually a false friend according to his definition? Hilarious! If what he’s really talking about are homonyms, contemporary English has hundreds of them, almost always easily distinguishable from the context. I think the same is true for the vast majority that occur in the King James Bible. This soap box of Ward’s appears to have less to do with linguistics than it does with filthy lucre (a term for the King James Bible he probably can’t understand).

    Liked by 1 person

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