Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#6 “Made-in-Japan” English

on January 11, 2012

If you heard “paper knife,” what would you think of?  A knife made out of paper?  A knife used for cutting paper?  Something else?

Actually, in Japanese, paper knife (ペーパーナイフ)means letter opener.

Were you surprised?  Actually, there are a TON of words like this out there in Japanese.

Another one of my all-time favorites is baby car (ベビーカー).

What do you think of when you think of baby car?

Do you think of a baby in a baby sized car?

Or perhaps a baby in a toy car?

Or maybe a baby driving a real car?

How about a baby driving its own stroller?

That last one was close.  Actually, baby car means stroller, carriage, or pram.  The kind pushed by someone and not actually controlled by the baby itself.

What did you think?

I find that the types of English words used in Japanese tend to fall into two types:

1) They use words that you don’t quite understand the meaning for, or that you misinterpret the meaning for, such as paper knife or baby car.

2) They use words they use means something entirely different in English than what they intended it for in Japanese.  For example, veteran.  In English, we usually use it as someone who has been through a war or perhaps through some ordeal, but in Japanese, it means someone who is an expert in their field.

Running across words like these are terribly interesting for us native English speakers (or at least I happen to think so).

The flip side though, is that many Japanese people believe these to be legit English words, in that if only they speak them with a more English accent they will be understood.  Actually, even that statement was a bit overambitious.  Many Japanese people believe that saying these words that have been conformed to the Japanese pronunciation system (as in paper knife being pei-pa-nai-fu), that THAT will be understood.

The technical term for these words is wasei eigo (和製英語)or English made-in-Japan.

Here’s a list of wasei eigo I particularly like or think is interesting, in alphabetical order.  The English translation/meaning of the item is in parenthesis next to it.  Enjoy!

1.    after service (customer support)
2.    bike (motorcycle)
3.    camping car (camper)
4.    cash card (ATM card)
5.    cider (soda)
6.    consent (electrical outlet)
7.    cooler (air conditioner)
8.    cunning (cheating)
9.    dubbing (copy – ie cd/dvd)
10.    free size (one size fits all)
11.    fried potato (french fries)
12.    fry pan (frying pan)
13.    handle (steering wheel)
14.    high socks (knee high socks)
15.    hot carpet (electric carpet)
16.    ice (ice cream)
17.    jet coaster (roller coaster)
18.    key holder (key chain)
19.    kitchen paper (paper towels)
20.    make (make-up)
21.    mansion (apartment, condo)
22.    my bag (eco bag)
23.    my pace (someone who is laid back, goes at their own pace) – but they say things like “he is so my pace!”
24.    nighter (night game, as in baseball)
25.    note (notebook)
26.    old boy (former member of an organization, alum)
27.    one piece (dress)
28.    post (mailbox)
29.    print (worksheet, handout)
30.    rinse (conditioner)
31.    roll cake (cake roll)
32.    salary man (someone who works in an office, white collar)
33.    season off (off season)
34.    sharp pencil (mechanical pencil)
35.    sign (autograph, signature)
36.    strap (cell phone charm)
37.    talent (tv celebrity)
38.    touch (high five)
39.    trump (playing cards)
40.    video deck (vcr)
41.    viking (buffet)
42.    virgin road (aisle – as in to walk down the aisle at a wedding)
43.    Yshirt (collared shirt)

There’s a ton more out there – many more that I’m aware of, and some I’m not.  I didn’t post the katakana version of all these words; if you’re interested in knowing them, I suggest looking them up on some online dictionary.

Also of note, I only included items that sounded English in the first place, but meant something different.  There are a TON more katakana words in the Japanese language that have been taken from other languages (such as Dutch, Portugese, French, etc).  Plus there are abbreviations like pasocon, which is short for personal computer: paso(naru) con(pyuta).  Or Comiket, which is short for comic market (a popular dojinshi event that happens twice a year in Tokyo and that I went to recently for the first time).  Even the uber popular pokemon is actually short for pocket monsters: poke(tto) mon(sta).

Anyone else have any particular made-in-Japan English they enjoy or want to share?

Alternatively, if anyone else has experiences with hearing English (or other foreign words) words in another language and wants to share about that, please do!

See you next time!

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