Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Twenty English Words the Japanese Totally Made Their Own

Not long ago, I was given a package of Ramune-flavored candy. The bag contains individually-wrapped cyan gummi discs, and while that may seem appealing, discs make as reasonable a shape as any for the flavor medium that is gummi. Go on. Think about it.


I have not been able to place the flavor, however. It’s subtle, familiar and vaguely lychee-like, but I can’t say, “Oh, it’s this.” It didn’t help that I had no idea what Ramune was. As it turns out, it’s a lemon-lime flavored Japanese soda, though I have to say that the Ramune candies don’t taste like 7-up or Sprite. And in one of those “That makes sense but I would have never guessed that,” the brand name Ramune is actually just the English word lemonade transliterated into Japanese. (Sayonara, end consonant!)

Ramune is not unique in having been created this way, and Wikipedia has a whole list of these words — both gairaigo, Japanese words based on ones borrowed from foreign languages, and wasei-eigo, constructions using English words that are uniquely Japanese and which an English-speaker wouldn’t say.

Here are twenty kickass ones, which I have chosen mostly on grounds of being the hardest to recognize as being English.
  • amerikandoggu, literally “American dog” but used to mean “corn dog”
  • bebika, literally “baby car” but used to mean “stroller”
  • bōrupen, literally “ball[point] pen”
  • buruma, “bloomers” (and I’m just glad someone is talking about bloomers)
  • donmai, literally “don’t mind” but used the way an English speaker would say “don’t worry about it”
  • eroguro, “ero[tic]” plus “gro[tesque],” and why yes there is a Wikipedia page for that
  • furaidopoteto, literally “fried potato” but meaning “french fry”
  • gōruden'awā, literally “golden hour” but used to mean “prime time” in the context of TV
  • inkī, literally “in-key,” used to refer to when you lock your keys in the car
  • jingisukan, literally “Genghis Khan” but used to refer to a style of Mongolian barbecue
  • kīsumāku, literally “kiss mark” but used to mean “hickey”
  • kyatchihon, literally “catch phone” but used to mean “call waiting”
  • majikkutēpu, literally “magic tape” but used to mean “Velcro”
  • mūdi, literally “moody” but strangely used to mean “nice”
  • nōkurēmunōritān, literally “no claim, no return” but used how English-speakers use “as is”
  • pokeberu, literally “pocket bell” but used to mean “beeper”
  • ronpari, “Lon[don]” plus the French pronunciation of “Paris,” amazingly used describe the condition of being cross-eyed or lazy-eyed, with one eye on London and the other on Paris
  • rorikon, which is known to some English speakers as lolicon, which comes from “Loli[ta]” plus “icon” and which refers to a sexual attraction toward underage girls... and why yes there is a Wikipedia page for that
  • sofutokurīmu, literally “softcream” but used to mean “soft-serve ice cream”
  • vājinrōdo, which is fun to say, which literally means “virgin road” and which refers to the procession aisle at a Western-style wedding
By a long shot, my favorite is ronpari, just for its poetry.

Also, there was one that I actually doubted: karaoke, allegedly from the Japanese kara, “empty” plus oke, originally from the English word orchestra. For some reason, it didn’t seem possible, but Etymonline backs it up.

2 comments:

  1. Ramune is a novelty drink for children. The bottles are designed so there's a clacking ball stuck in the neck of the bottle that slows the flow of the drink without stopping it. Kids like the sugar and the sound; parents like that it takes longer to drink. Most kids probably only get to drink it on special occasions like when the family goes out on vacation together, so the flavor has a strong nostalgic association for Japanese adults.

    One bit of gairaigo I remember from Osaka: "No My Car Day." It's a day of the month when drivers are encouraged to commute on the train with lower than usual fees.

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  2. While I was in Japan, I met a Japanese guy who was shocked that the phrase "arafo-" aka "around forty" was not a phrase that exists in English. Also, I have a fondness for the term "skinship," because it makes so much sense but just seems to be so wrong.

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