Monday, August 15, 2011

Japanese Lesson #18: Wasei Eigo

Today, let's talk about the relationship between English and Japanese. Ever since Commodore Perry's black ships landed on Japan's shores in 1853, there has been some degree of English in this country. Over time, English phrases have been indoctrinated into Japanese culture and language. Some of them have warped over time, losing their original meanings and gaining new, uniquely Japanese meanings. These words are known as "wasei eigo," translated as "English made in Japan."

What follows is a short list of wasei eigo words. Though you'd expect, as a native speaker of English, that you'd be able to understand them, you might be mistaken. As the words have evolved, their pronunciation and length have also changed.

aisu = ice cream
amefuto = American football
apato = apartment
biru = building
donmai = don't mind (i.e. "don't worry about it")
fantajikku = fantastic
irasuto = illustration
kitchenpepa = paper towels
otobai = (automatic bicycle) motorcycle
rimokon = remote control
serufu = self (abbreviation for "self service" gas stations)
zemi = seminar (often used to describe "lecture-style" college courses)

You can find even more words on Wikipedia's page. While in many cases there are Japanese synonyms for these words, oftentimes they are considered the most common or widely used versions. For example, both the words "zero" and "pink" are used more than their Japanese counterparts, "rei" and "momoiro."

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