loan words

Learning Japanese? Beware these 19 loan words—they’re not what they sound like!

Speakers of certain languages sometimes get a leg-up when learning Japanese. For example, Japanese includes Chinese characters, which means Chinese speakers can often get the gist of a text even if they don’t understand the grammar. Similarly, Korean speakers might find that Japanese grammar is kinda similar to theirs. And we native English speakers get a huge helping hand from the hundreds of English loan words that have been adopted into modern Japanese.

But sometimes, these loan words aren’t really our friends at all. Instead, they’re what’s known as false friends – words that sound similar in two languages yet have a completely different meaning. In co-opting English words into Japanese, sometimes our crafty Nihonjin pals have assigned our words to things that actually mean something totally different. It’s almost like they’re trying to trick us!

Join us for a quick primer on some Japanese loanwords you might have heard before, and what they really mean!

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18 Japanese words understood around the world

If you’re an enthusiastic linguaphile like myself, you probably spend a good part of each day A) Thinking up ways to make your friends groan yet again with all your linguistic knowledge (e.g. dressing up as a “dead language” for Halloween), and B) Getting super excited whenever you discover the etymology of a new word (also, C) Debating which flavor of ice cream to buy based solely on how witty its name is).

One of my favorite linguistically related topics to contemplate is the constant borrowing of words and shifts in meaning that takes place among the world’s languages. Students of Japanese are often surprised to discover the huge inventory of ‘loan words’ in Japanese that were borrowed from English which have often either changed drastically from their original pronunciations or are combined in different ways to create new, Japanese-made English terms.

But how about the flip side of that–Japanese words that have been imported into other languages? Join us after the jump for a look at some of them!

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Man sues Japan’s public broadcasting corporation for excessive use of foreign loan words

Risuku (risk), kea (care), toraburu (trouble), asuri-to (athlete); I can’t understand what the hell they’re talking about!” vented 71-year-old Gifu Prefecture resident Hoji Takahashi.

Takahashi, a former public servant and sponsor of the “Cherish the Japanese Language Group,” filed suit against Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) in Nagoya district court on June 25 for emotional distress. Claiming he is unable to comprehend programming content due to the broadcaster’s excessive use of foreign load words, or gairaigo, Takahashi is seeking 1.41 million yen (US$14,000) for the pain and suffering he has had to endure.

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