sci.lang.japan FAQ / 5. Japanese and English

5.6. What "false friends" are there between Japanese and English?

Many of the English words adopted by the Japanese have gained meanings different from the original English meaning. In many cases, the English word is simply being used as a substitute for a similar existing Japanese word. For example the Japanese word charenji, from English "challenge", is used as a substitute for the word chousen (挑戦), even when this does not fit the English meaning. Words which seem similar but are actually different in two different languages are called "false friends".

See also 5.4. What are these pseudo English words like salaryman? about pseudo-English created in Japan, and 8.3. What are contracted words like about pseudo-English made by contracting words together. 6.11. What words have the same kanji in China and Japan but different meanings? covers kanji words which have different meanings in Chinese and Japanese.

Here are some common examples, in the form of a table.

English word Japanese (rōmaji) Japanese (katakana) Meaning in Japan
about abauto アバウト Vague, lazy, or sloppy. For example, an abauto na hito (アバウトな人) is a lazy person, someone who is not punctual, etc.
challenge charenji チャレンジ Charenji suru is used as a substitute for chōsen suru (挑戦する), to attempt a difficult task.
claim kurēmu クレーム Complain (with suru), make a complaint about.
cunning kanningu カンニング Cheating in an exam.
dash dasshu ダッシュ Rush, hurry.
diet daietto ダイエット Any kind of weight-loss regimen, including exercise-based. However, it is not used to mean diet in the sense of "things eaten", which is jōshoku (常食) in Japanese.
don't mind donmai ドンマイ Never mind! No worries!.
feminist feminisuto フェミニスト A man who pampers women.
glamour guramā グラマー Large-breasted (woman).
goo グー Abbreviation of good, hence the shop name "Wonder Goo".
half hāfu ハーフ Mixed-race
handle handoru ハンドル Steering wheel.
happening hapuningu ハプニング An unexpected occurrence, a surprise
high tension hai tenshon ハイ テンション Excited, excitable, hyperactive. The Japanese meaning comes from a meaning "high voltage".
image imēji イメージ Artist's impression. Imēji is used for, for example, artist's impressions of as-yet-unconstructed buildings.
juice jūsu ジュース Not just fruit juice, but soft drinks in general, including Coca-Cola or even green tea.
man man マン Man. Used as a suffix with various jobs, such as "guard man" and "salary man".
mansion manshon マンション Block of flats, condominium.
pierce piasu ピアス earrings
present purezento suru プレゼント する Purezento suru means "give a present".
print purinto プリント Advertising flyer or handout
reform rifōmu リフォーム House redecoration or refurbishment.
seal shiiru シール sticker
sense sensu センス To have good taste may be referred to as sensu ga aru "to have sense" in Japanese.
smart sumāto スマート Slim, not fat.
talent tarento タレント TV personality.
trainer torēnā トレーナー A sweat shirt.
unique yūniiku ユーニーク Used as a substitute for koseiteki (個性的), "individual", "unusual".

References and links

sci.lang.japan FAQ / 5. Japanese and English

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