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Japanese English 和製英語

2014.04.04 (Fri)

The first time my friend said to me in Japanese, “I want to become smarter, so I’m going on a diet”, I couldn’t understand the connection between the two. And when I was told, “These clothes are order-made”, or, “Next year, I’m planning to reform my house”, it was like some sort of riddle. Do you know why?

It’s because I thought the words were English. I didn’t realise that, in Japanese, ‘smart’ meant slim, ‘order made’ meant tailor made, or that ‘reform’ meant renovate. What is extra confusing is that sometimes words come across from English with the same meaning, like ‘diet’, whereas others, like ‘smart’, take on a different nuance.

Actually, in exactly the same way, English also takes words from languages all over the world. For example, in the sentence, “The honcho rode in a rickshaw”, honcho and rickshaw are both originally Japanese words. Now, while ‘rickshaw’ has the same meaning as (jin)rikisha in Japanese, honcho means an important person, whereas in Japanese, it denotes a section head, so, slightly different nuance. And probably most native English speakers use those words without realising they come from Japanese.

The meaning of words is flexible, and language itself is fluid. So it’s not surprising that, when two languages come up against each other and swap words, the meaning and the usage of those words changes in the new context. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; actually, I think it’s really interesting, because you can see new ways of using words. Both Australian and Japanese people like playing with words, so isn’t this just another type of wordplay?

Finally, I want to tell you my favorite wasei-eigo (Japanese English) words, with the English meaning in brackets after the word. They are: skinship (physical contact between people), konsento (power outlet), and service (complimentary goods). Even though, in Japanese, they look like they are English words, they are actually have meanings that are unique to Japanese. The first time I heard these words, I was very confused. But now it’s the opposite, and I sometimes use them in English and get very strange looks from people.

初めて日本語で、「もっとスマートになりたいから、ダイエットすることにした」と友達に言われたとき、スマートとダイエットとの関係がまったく分かりませんでした。同じように「この服はオーダーメイドだよ」とか「来年、家をリフォームするつもり」と言われても、何を言っているのかとても謎でした。なぜだか分かりますか?

それは、私がこれらの言葉を英語と思い込んでいて、スマートがsmart (英語では「かしこい」)、オーダーメイドがorder made (注文済ませた)、リフォームがreform(改革)と思っていたので理解できなかったのです。特に紛らわしいのは、例えばダイエットは英語本来の意味なのに、どうしてスマートは異った意味で使われているのでしょうか。

実は英語も同じように、世界中の言語を適当に取り入れて造られています。例えば、”The(ザ) honcho(ハンチョウ) rode(ロード) in(イン) a(ア) rickshaw(リキシャ)”の文章は、「班長は人力車に乗った」という意味ですが、honcho(ハンチョウ)は「班長」、rickshaw(リキシャ)は「人力車」と、日本語からきている言葉が入っています。ただ、rickshawは「人力車」と同じですが、honchoは「偉い人」という意味で使っています。たぶん一般的な英語圏の人は、日本語に由来を知らずに普通に使っています。

言葉の定義は柔軟なもので、言語自体もとても流動的です。その上、二つの言語が交流したりぶつかったりすると、意味や使い方が変わってくることがあります。それは、悲しいことではなく「あ、こういう使い方もあるんだ」と、とても面白いことだと思います。日本人もオーストラリア人も言葉で遊ぶのが大好きですが、これも一つの言葉遊びではありませんか。

最後に、私の一番好きな和製英語(カッコは英語で一番近い意味)を紹介します。それは、スキンシップ(英語で当たる言葉がない!!)、コンセント(承諾)、サービス(業務)です。見た目は英語ですが、実は日本語独特の意味で使われているので、初めて聞いたときはすごく当惑しました。でも今は逆に、英語で会話しているときに使うこともあって、よく不思議な顔をされます(笑)。

 

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2 comments

  1. I had never noticed the honcho in “head honcho” is 班長! At least in the US, I’ve also heard we got the phrase “okey-dokey” from American soldiers hearing 時々.

    A word that really got me at first was “tension” (especially in “high tension”). It took me a while to realize it usually has positive connotation, and now I find myself using in it in English like that.


    • I always, for some reason, assumed honcho was Spanish, until I found out it was 班長.
      Oh, I had forgotten about tension! That’s a great one.



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