Although Italian in origin, the words pasta and spaghetti are now everyday words in English. Thanks to the foods’ proliferation around the world these words can also be found in Japanese, pronounced pasuta and supagettī respectively.

But in recent years, it seems as if the word “spaghetti” has been falling out of favor in Japan, being replaced by the word “pasta.” Although in English the distinction between “spaghetti” and “pasta” is pretty clear (pasta being the foodstuff, spaghetti one of its many varieties), it seems there is a whole other world of nuances when the words cross over into Japanese.

This trend can be illustrated by a discussion on Japanese message board site 2-channel where someone posted a simple question several years ago that triggered a flood of comments: “Do you say ‘spaghetti’ or ‘pasta’?”


Interestingly, many comments suggested that calling a dish of long and thin noodles spaghetti is kind of old-fashioned. Someone compared it to someone calling an iPod a Walkman. Although the meaning is easily understood by all the person saying it sounds hugely out-of-touch.

However, with spaghetti becoming outmoded, it has to be called something. Therefore pasta is becoming the de facto name for spaghetti. Other pasta dishes like macaroni or lasagna are generally called by their regular names but may also be referred to as pasta.

  A matter of taste

Others suggested that either word was valid but had different connotations. “Pasta”, they said, seems to have a more exotic and sophisticated feeling to it, whereas “spaghetti” sounded like something plain and domestically produced.

There were a few who shared experiences of going to restaurants only to find dishes listed as “pasta” on the menu without referring to what kind of noodle was used. This is because when a restaurant uses “spaghetti” it conjures memories of fast and cheaply made Napolitan spaghetti more suited for kids’ lunches rather than an elegant meal.

It seems counter-intuitive that using a less-specific name sounds more sophisticated, but that’s how it is. Also, some net users mentioned liking the simplicity of the  broader term since it allowed them to avoid embarrassment by not knowing the different types of pasta, which they liked to a non-Japanese person walking into an udon shop and ordering ramen.

  It all boils down to…

Much like when cooking pasta and/or spaghetti, this information should be taken with a pinch of salt. I personally thought the entire issue rather odd, so I decided to ask around and get some opinions on the matter. Interestingly, the teenagers I asked all seemed pretty well in tune with the English convention of “pasta” being the overarching term for the Italian foodstuff and “spaghetti” being one type of pasta. Other than that they didn’t feel that there was any significant difference between the words.

The twenty-somethings I talked to shared similar sentiments to the teens but did acknowledge that “pasta” somehow felt classier than “spaghetti.”

Moving into the thirty-somethings, they also shared the feelings of sophistication as those in their twenties did, but found that the context was more important. For example, if you simply said, “This is spaghetti.” it wouldn’t come across as odd. However, if you said “Let’s go have some spaghetti!” you might sound like an old fogey trying to be cool.

▼ We were sure to call this creation “Cat Food Pasta” because “Cat Food Spaghetti” would have just sounded silly.

So it really depends to whom and how you talk about spaghetti that determines if the word is “cool” or not.

In the end, Japanese is an always evolving language. Judging by the younger generations’ response to this issue, we may still see the word “spaghetti” being used as a broad term in Japanese after it goes through this rough patch of uncoolness.

If you’d like to learn more about the intricacies of food-themed foreign loan words, be sure to check out our exposé on the difference between pancakes and hotcakes.

Source: 2-channel via Niconico News (Japanese)
Top Image: Wikipedia
Napolitan Image: Wikipedia – OiMax from Tokyo
Catfood Pasta Image: RocketNews24