Wednesday, 10 June 2009

took the words right out of my... language

The ability of Japan to mangle the English language is well documented. Engrish is a never-ending source of amusement. At times equally amusing and bizarre is wasei-eigo.

I remember in the very first lecture of the Intro to East Asia course required of all East Asian Studies majors at my university, the prof (a Japan guy) told us all about the reason why he had gotten hooked on Japanese - he loved loan words. Pretty much the only thing I still remember from that class was one example he had then proceeded to tell us - sutopu-rukku which came from the English "stop" and "look." It referred to a bikini so skimpy that it caused males to stop and look.

More recently a couple of my friends were talking about their research topics. We had been talking about the importance of selling your topic in grant proposals. I said that there were some topics that were "sexy" (in a whole different way from the sutopu-rukku!) One of my friends agreed, saying that when she had chosen her topic she thought she had chosen one that was naui, but after doing some research she had discovered it wasn't. I looked confused, so my friend explained that naui is an adjective meaning new or fresh. The i at the end being the basic equivalent here of "-ish," having been tacked on to the English word "now." Right, so her topic is passe, not now-ish.

In Japanese a honeymoon is a shin-kon ryoko, literally a "newly wed vacation." But the English term has also found its way into Japanese in a somewhat altered form. I saw a travel advertisement the other day aimed at older couples, suggesting they go on a furu-mun ryoko. If a honeymoon happens at the start of a marriage, then by the time you've been married for a few decades it's time to go on your full moon trip... Makes sense in a way that languages rarely do!


  1. I also love Japanese loan words. Actually, I wrote a paper on them when doing my linguistics post-grad. There's lots of fun stuff there.

  2. oooh! That sounds interesting! What was your paper about??