Made-in-Japan English!

Made-in-Japan English!

The Japanese language has no hesitations when it comes to importing words from abroad, and why not? Foreign words add spice to our mother tongue! New layers of meaning and nuance can be instantly i…
June 10 2018 English fun The joy of languages Japanese

The Japanese language has no hesitations when it comes to importing words from abroad, and why not? Foreign words add spice to our mother tongue! New layers of meaning and nuance can be instantly introduced to the local language when words are borrowed from over seas.

The Japanese do it when they don’t have an equivalent native word for it (e.g. ネクタイ/nekutai/”necktie”), to express the small differences in nuance (e.g. ライス/raisu/”rice on plates”, as opposed to ご飯/gohan/”rice in Japanese bowls”), or, I’ll admit, just to sound a bit cool (e.g. リスペクトする/risupekuto suru/”to repect”).

Many words are borrowed from the English language, so you may be under the misapprehension that as an English speaker you have a head start in deciphering “Japanglish” words… Well, prepare to be surprised!

(Please note that most of these expressions are very colloquial and should not be used in your end-of-term essays)

Let’s see how many you can get right!


Katakana Verbs

Katakana verbs are made by splicing the first two sounds of an English word with a Japanese verb ending.

This verb type has secured its place within Japanese grammar. It has regular rules for conjugation and pronunciation; they conjugate like the other RU verbs and the intonation is low-high-low. Once you know the original English word, the meaning of its Japanese version should be fairly easy to work out. However, it’s funny how difficult it is to see which English word is hiding when it is camouflaged in thick Japanese pronunciation.

ググる (gugu-ru)

Waseieigo tte douiu imi?
          “What does waseieigo mean?”
Nobu: ググれば?
          “[         ]!”

A great way to abruptly end the start of a conversation!

Answer: “Google it!”

ダブる (dabu-ru)

Kanojo ga okoru to, kanojo to gojira ga dabutte miete shimau.
“When my girlfriend is angry, she and Gozilla [        ].”

Answer: The word hiding here is “double”, and in Japanese, it means “to overlap” or “to duplicate”.



サマる (sama-ru)

kokomade no nagare wo samatte kureru?
“Could you [      ] what’s happened so far?”

“Sama (様)” is a title for people you respect, for example Prince-sama (王子様/ōjisama) and lady-sama (お嬢様/ojōsama). Alas, to sama doesn’t mean you will be surrounded by members of the royal family. It is much more mundane. Answer: “to summarise”.

チキる (chiki-ru)

suki tte tsutaetakatta kedo, chikicchatta.
“I wanted to tell her/him I liked her, but I [    ].”

 Give up? Well done you got the answer: “to chicken out” “to be a chicken”


You’ve already seen some Japanglish words in one of our past blog posts. Here are some more! Do you see them as an abuse of the English language? Or might they become your new favourite words? Let’s find out!
giphy (1)

アバウト (abauto)

abauto na jōhō de handan shicha ikenai yo.
“You shouldn’t judge things on [      ] information.”
You can say that a process is アバウト, or a person is アバウト, and it means: “sloppy” or “imprecise”. It comes from the English word about as in thereabouts.


マイブーム (mai būmu)

Rego ga saikin no mai būmu.
“Lego is [     ] nowadays.”

マイブームmy boom. In other (Japanese) words, 自分の中での流行り(jibun no naka deno hayari/”a popular trend inside me”). They both mean that you “currently really like it”. It feels like a contradiction to describe your personal taste with more general terms like “trend” or “popular”. The expression’s focus is more on the fact that booms or trends fade away as quickly as they came. By saying that something is your マイブーム, you are also saying that you might not be so into it in a couple of weeks.

ボンバーヘッド (bonbā heddo)

asa okitara bonbā heddo ninatteta!
“I woke up this morning with a [     ]!”
The Japanese version of bomber head is used to refer to a hair style and not a narcotic state. It’s a “big afro” or “very messy hair”
giphy (2)


ラブラブ (rabu rabu)

Ryōshin wa sanjū nen tattemo rabu rabu desu.
Even after 30 years, my parents are [     ].
When you are ラブラブ with someone, you are not “rubbing” the other person vigorously (I mean, you could, if you’d like…), instead ラブラブ comes from love love and means that you are “heavily in love” or “lovey-dovey” with that person.


なう (nau)

shibuya nau
This would probably reinforce the arguments that Japanese people talk like Yoda. We say “Shibuya now” in heavy Japanese accent and forcefully make it mean “I am in Shibuya”. Past tense is also very simple.
sutaba wazu
I was at Starbucks

giphy (3)


Pick-and-Mix Japanese

Japanese is a very malleable language; you can mix parts of words to create new one.


キャパオーバー (kyapa ōbā)

shigoto ga ōkute kyapa ōbā desu
“There is too much work, I feel over capacity


ドンマイ (don mai)

(to a player who missed a goal shoot)
don mai
Don’t worry about it!”
ドンマイ is a merging of “Don’t worry” and “Never mind!”, twice as effective!


アラサー (arasā)

arasā dakaratte aseranakute ii
No need to get worried just because you are around thirty years old 
アラサー is used commonly amongst women to group and label themselves according to age. This helps when talking about life events associated with those ages. How would you say “around 40” or “around 50”? アラフォー (arafō) and アラフィフ (arafifu)!
 How many did you get right? If you couldn’t get any right, ドンマイ!!