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Just like you say “Let’s do Karaoke after dinner” when you have a Friday night party with your friends, or “I feel like Unagi for dinner tonight” when you watch Friends S6, E17, there are many international words that have become part of the Japanese language. For example, “Bed”, “Suitcase”, and “Table” are used as the Japanese language with Japanese pronunciation in everyday life such as 「ベッド」(beddo), 「スーツケース」(sutsukeesu), and 「テーブル」(teeburu).
Interestingly, We Japanese have invented some words that we (Japanese) think are English words but actually not. These words are called Japanglish, as well as Wasei-go. Japanglish is being used in Japan and I hadn’t even known that these words (which I will introduce today) were made in Japan by Japanese people.
As a matter of fact, when I came to Australia for the first time, I was using those words and expressions that I thought were English such as “Consent” (Electrical sockets) and “Freeter” (Part-time worker). As you can imagine no one understood what I meant.
Many of the Japanese words are adopted from other languages that include but not limited to English, German, and Portuguese. Therefore, Japanese people including me are not even sure which ones are English words that have been adapted to the Japanese language or Japanglish. Most importantly, I don’t think we are able to tell the difference in the future and I think it would be easier if you learned Japanglish for us😆😆😆
Therefore, I will introduce some Japanglish words (Wasei-go) that may surprise you.
- "Hotchkiss" (Staplers)
- "Cunning" (Cheating in Exams)
- "Pet Bottles" (Plastic Bottles)
- "Skinship" (Physical contact)
- "Sharp Pencils" (Mechanical Pencils)
- "Unique" (Funny)
- "Don't Mind" (Don't Worry)
- "Paper Driver" (Inexperienced Drivers)
- "Trump" (Cards)
- "Fight!" (You Can Do It!)
- "Naive" (Sensitive)
- "Handle" (Steering Wheel)
- "Man to Man" (One-on-One)
- "Complex" (Inferiority Complex)
「ホチキス」(Hochikisu) is an office paper stapler.
The origin of the name is from the first company that introduced staplers in Japan which is E. H. Hotchkiss. Outside of the package of the staplers, Japanese people only saw its company’s name “Hotchkiss”, and Japanese people started calling 「ホチキス」(Hochikisu) instead of 「ステープラー」(Steepura).
“Cunning” (Cheating in Exams)
「カンニング」(Kanningu) derived from the word “Cunning” in English, but the nuance of its meaning is slightly different from the actual meaning.
Although people who successfully achieve cheating or deceiving other people are called cunning, the Japanese misunderstood the actual meaning of cunning when it was imported to Japan. Cunning in Japan is only used as the act of cheating in exams. For example, “Teacher, I saw Mr. A did cunning in the exam” means “Mr. A cheated in the exam” in Japan.
“Pet Bottles” (Plastic Bottles)
These are not “Plastic bottles”. They are called “Pet bottles” in Japan, with the Japanese pronunciation being “Petto botoru”.
The origin of the name “Petto” comes from the word “PET” which is short for “Polyethylene terephthalate”. Therefore, most Japanese people think Plastic bottles in English are called pet bottles as well.
“Plastic” with Japanese pronunciation is “Purasuchikku” which refers to the same thing in English as plastics in general.
“Skinship” (Physical contact)
「スキンシップ」(Sukin shippu) comes from the Japanese-made-up word “Skinship” which is a combination of the word “Skin” and “Friendship”.
“Skinship” refers to any type of physical intimacy including even just touching someone’s arm.
As a Japanese man, there is one big thing that I was surprised the most when I first came to Australia or watched the American sitcom “Friends”. That is the closeness of people. We, Japanese, tend to avoid touching other people unless it is inevitable. Especially, a friendship between Japanese men and women is completely different to the ones in the USA like Joey and Rachel in “Friends” where Rachel sits on Joey’s lap and watches movies together.
Additionally, “Skinship” sounds so like an existing English word, doesn’t it!? So, if you hear someone says “Her skinship is too much”, we mean “She touches people too often”.
“Sharp Pencils” (Mechanical Pencils)
Mechanical pencils are called “Sharp pencils” in Japan.
It is often shortened to be 「シャーペン」(Shaapen). The name was originated from the first mechanical pencils company in the USA “Eversharp Pencil“.
“Hey, can I borrow your sharp pencil for a second?”. We do not mean to borrow your very sharpened pencil.
“I think you are so unique“. If you have heard Japanese people use the word “unique” in a sentence like this, we might mean “I think you are so funny“.
I don’t really know why and how the word “unique” has become to mean “funny” in Japan, however, we use it as someone is being funny. So, please don’t take it personal.
“Don’t Mind” (Don’t Worry)
With the Japanese pronuciation「ドンマイ」(Donmai) comes from the phrase “Don’t mind“.
Even though “Don’t mind” in English means a polite way of accepting something, “Don’t mind” in Japan means “It’s okay” or “Don’t worry”. I guess it was confused by us with “Don’t worry” and “Never mind”. So, if you come across some Japanese who say to you “Don’t mind” when you are down, please “don’t mind it”.
“Paper Driver” (Inexperienced Drivers)
“Paper drivers” is another Japanese-made-up word and it means inexperienced drivers who have their driver’s license, but haven’t driven cars for ages. 「ペーパードライバー」is pronounced like “Peepaa doraiba” in Japanese. The origin of the name is probably because driver’s licenses are just papers if their owners don’t use them.
So, if you ask your Japanese friend to go for a drive and he says “I am sorry, but I am a paper driver. I probably need to practice before we go”, he means he hasn’t driven a car for a long time. But, I heard it and it’s quite understandable, isn’t it!?
“Trump” means “cards” in Japan.
The origin of the word “Trump” comes from the winning card in card games called “Trump cards”. I still remember when my friends and I were about to play cards and I said “Does anyone have trump?” and everybody turned into question marks.
“Fight!” (You Can Do It!)
“I don’t know if I can do this, man” “Common! Fight!”
「ファイト」(Faito) “Fight” is commonly used in Japan as an encouraging word such as “Don’t give up” and “Hang in there” when someone is having a hard time. Certainly not that we are asking you to fight someone.
“You are so naive!” or “He is a naive person, so I think we should leave him alone”. These are some expressions that we, Japanese use quite often to describe someone who is sensitive or pure-hearted.
「ナイーブ」(Naiibu) “Naive” in Japan is thought to be a positive word when it comes to describing someone’s personality. However, it has some negative meanings in English such as immature and unsophisticated. Sadly, the majority of the Japanese people use the word naive in a sentence wrongly because they think the word “naive” means “sensitive” and “pure”.
“Handle” (Steering Wheel)
The steering wheel is called “Handle” in Japan.
I know Japanese assigned the word「ハンドル」(Handoru) “Handle” to the meaning of the steering wheel. But doesn’t it make more sense if the steering wheel is called “Handle”? I mean the hands holding the wheel. Maybe it’s just me then😂
“Man to Man” (One-on-One)
「マンツーマンクラス」(Mantsuman kurasu) is very popular one-on-one English lesson that the English school in the Philippines offer at a reasonable price to English learners. A choice of these schools over the ones in the USA are very popular among Japanese and Korean. More than 6,000 Japanese people chose to study English in the Philippines every year before the Covid-19 pandemic.
I also studied English in the Philippines when I was 21 and this 「マンツーマンクラス」was the reason why I decided to go to the Philippines. Even Filipino teachers used the word “man to man” instead of “one-on-one” that I had used them in the wrong way until one of my Japanese friends told me that was wrong.
“Complex” (Inferiority Complex)
“I think my nose is too big, that is my complex”
“I have a complex about my English that I cannot be confident to speak up around English native speakers”
These are very common ways that the word “complex” has been used by Japanese people. Although the word complex can be used to indicate someone has a concern about something, the nuance is a bit different when Japanese use it. When you have a “complex”, Japanese people tend to compare themselves with other people and feel inferior because the other people are better than whatever the problem you think you are having.
There you have it!
There are a lot more of Wasei-go, however, I hope you get the point. We make up words and are not even sure if they are existing English words! So, please be kind and guess the actual meaning of Wasei-go before you turn yourself into a big question mark.
I hope you enjoyed it. If you liked the post, please take a moment and share this with your friends. That would mean the world to me😆
If you have questions or feedback, I’d love to hear. Please leave a comment or send me a message via Twitter.