Frustrated by Kay Kim via Flickr Part 2

My entries for the “Top 10 most irritating Japanese borrowed words” weren’t irritating enough for some people – so I’ve formulated a part two (“tsuu”) with your help!

We received a lot of feedback for the first instalment of irritating Japanese borrowed words, so I’ve compiled a second Top 10 along with my estimates for how long it would take to get used to each one. I guess you could call this the people’s Top 10!

No. 10
ゼリー (“Zerii”/Jelly)
Irritation Meter 6/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 4 years

Grape jelly soda

Creeping in at number 10 we have ゼリー (“zerii”), another one of those pronunciation irritants. We have the necessary phonetics in Japanese to say ジェ “je” but unfortunately someone chose to use ゼ “ze”. It’s like choosing a fork to eat your jelly when you have a spoon – well, maybe not that bad. “Zerii” instead of “Jerii” is a bit easier to pronounce for Japanese people, so it obviously stuck.

Elliot from Facebook says:

“What still get[s] me are the loanwords where ‘j’ has been converted to ‘z,’ like ゼリ (zeri, ‘jelly’) and ゼネラル (zeneraru, ‘general’). Japanese has a ‘j’ sound, and people use it all the time. じゃ〜”

No. 9
エネルギー (“Enerugii”/Energy)
Irritation Meter 7/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 6 years

Who decided to put the “ru” in this one? Is it really necessary? “Enegii” would have been just fine. I can see where they were trying to go with this one but it just didn’t come out right. I can just imagine a group of people in the boardroom for the Japanese language saying, “What are we going to do with this “r”, we can’t just leave it out can we? People were mad when we didn’t use the proper ‘je’ for jelly, so we’ll just have to go with ‘enerugii’.”

A special mention here must go to “allergy”, which is translated into アレルギー (“arerugii) – there’s that “ru” again making a nuisance of itself.

No. 8
ハイテンション  (“Hai-tenshon”/Enthusiastic, High levels of energy)
Irritation Meter 7.5/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 5 years

Norihiro Kataoka

If a rope has high tension, you may be forgiven for thinking it is highly strung. But in Japan, if a rope has high tension, it is full of energy and enthusiasm. This one can be irritating at first, but once you get used to it, the irritation does dissipate. And you have no choice if you are working as an English teacher for children – which often has two professional requirements: being at least a near native English speaker and being able to produce “Hai-tenshon”.

William from Facebook says:

“What, no ‘tension’?! I’m a translator, and it took me years and years to understand ‘tension’!”

No. 7
スタジオ  (“Sutajio”/Studio)
Irritation Meter 7.5/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 5 years

This is another easy one to understand why it can be irritating for English native speakers. But you know, even if the phonetic conversion of studio from English into Japanese were correct it would become “suchujio” – and yes we would find a way to complain about that one too.

Josh from Facebook says:

“I have no idea where キャベツ [“kyabetsu”, cabbage] came from. And why studio is written スタジオ?”

No. 6
マクドナルド (“Makudonarudo”/McDonald’s)
Irritation Meter 7.5/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 15 years

Koji Horaguchi

I can see the logic behind this one, it’s almost a straight phonetical translation from English, which does reduce its irritability. Although this doesn’t make it any easier to say. I must admit I have practiced saying this in my spare time over the years to try to master the pronunciation, and it’s still difficult to say. I think we’ll all be happier if we just stick to the abbreviated version of “makudonarudo”, which is “makku”.

Christine from Facebook says:

“マクドナルド took me months of active effort. Seeing people’s heads explode that it’s really McDonald’s is never not funny.”

Lauranne from Facebook replied:

“I will never be able to say that in Japanese. Thank goodness マック is sufficient.”

No. 5
シール (“Shiiru”/Sticker)
Irritation Meter 8/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 5 years

It appears as if this is one of those terms that has become more convoluted with time. If you were to seal something you would imagine fastening something shut. So why “shiiru” for a sticker? Apparently, according to Japanese wikipedia, the term “shiiru” comes from the olden days when a “seal” was used to seal an envelope, and then this term evolved to also mean sticker. But perhaps an even stronger sticking point for native English speakers is the fact that the term “shiiru” can also be used for labels.

Erik from Facebook says:

“The woooorst is シール, ‘seal’, which is the loan word for stickers. Like, no one ever uses stickers to seal stuff. Calling them seals makes them sound WAY too serious-business.”

No. 4
ジュース (“Jyuusu”/Drink)
Irritation Meter 8.5/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 7 years


I think we can safely say that juice almost always comes from a fruit or a vegetable. How is Coca-Cola juice!? Well, the word “jyuusu” in Japanese does include coke and basically any drink you can get out of a vending machine – in fact it really just means any drink that isn’t alcoholic. Yes, I agree with Kyle from Facebook on this one. He says:

“One that (in my opinion) ranks right up there with sando is jyu-su. Just as annoying, but FAR more prevalent. You’d expect it to refer to, y’know, juice… but no, the word is used for pretty much any canned beverage. I can understand how it happened, but still, no.”

No. 3
オーマイガー (“Oomaigaa”/Oh my God)
Irritation Meter 9/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: never

How did I miss this one in Part 1? Irritating because we lost a ‘d’ in translation (I wish that would have happened to some ‘r’s along the way). Whenever I hear this phrase there is always a sense of a lack of finality as we wait for a ‘d’ that never comes – like waiting for that final jolt when pulling into a train station that never comes.

No. 2
マンション (“Manshon”/Condominium or high quality apartment)
Irritation Meter 9/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: 4 years


Coming in at two we have a false friend. I think this one confuses everyone when they first arrive in Japan. The term “manshon” (condominium) comes from the British term mansion block, which is a block of apartments, according to Japanese wikipedia. Now the term has evolved to mean a larger better quality apartment – usually an apartment made from concrete, rather than wood or steel. But one can’t help but think of a lavish grand multi-storey house whenever they hear the word “manshon” – for the first few years living in Japan anyway.

Steve from Facebook says:

“マンション ‘mansion’ meaning a block of small flats. I thought my JLT was being sarcastic when she kept saying, ‘Steve lives in a mansion’ and I was thinking ‘I live in the smallest room I’ve ever seen!'”

No. 1
なう (“Nau”/Now)
Irritation Meter 9.5/10

Average years of study to get used to the term: still unknown

This one became a buzzword a few years ago. I remember my friends posting “nau” (now) online and thinking surely this can’t mean “now”. But unfortunately it did. I’ve never really thought about why this word was so irritating but it’s probably because of the way it is used. It’s usually only written in messages – for example, “Shibuya nau”. It’s probably the fact that people feel the need to report to the world where they are – which really isn’t that necessary. And what’s wrong with “Ima (now) Shibuya” – I guess it probably doesn’t sound as cool.

Rui from Facebook says:

“I think なう irritates me. I understand it’s borrowed from the English word ‘now’ but when people begin posting 大阪なう [Osaka nau], etc. it gets frustrating.”

So there you have it, the top 10 most irritating Japanese borrowed words – part tsuu (2). And yes, I agree, ツー “tsuu” should be トゥー “tuu” instead.

So, have I managed to cover them all this time?

Sources: Wikipedia/シール, Wikipedia/マンション
Top Image:  Flickr/Kay Kim
Insert images: Flickr/Kalleboo, Flickr/Noriqnub, Flickr/Horaguchi, Flickr/Howe-Ely, Flickr/June29