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

Japanese has many loanwords from English. Many have gained meanings different from the original. Words which seem similar but are actually different in two different languages are called "false friends".

For example, some English words are used as substitutes for a similar existing Japanese word. For example the Japanese word charenji, from English "challenge", is used as a substitute for the word chōsen (挑戦), even when this does not fit the English meaning.

Here are some common examples.

About アバウト

Rōmaji: abauto

"About" has taken on the meaning vague, lazy, or sloppy. For example, an abauto na hito (アバウトな人), literally "about person" is someone who is lazy or not punctual.

Challenge チャレンジ

Rōmaji: charenji

Charenji suru is used as a substitute for chōsen suru (挑戦する), to attempt a difficult task.

Cider サイダー

Rōmaji: saidā

A sweet fizzy drink like lemonade. The alcoholic drink brewed from apples is called "fruit beer" in Japan. See What are these pseudo English words like salaryman?

Claim クレーム

Rōmaji: kurēmu

Kurēmu suru means complain or make a complaint about, particularly one requiring compensation, possibly derived from "insurance claim".

Cunning カンニング

Rōmaji: kanningu

"Cunning" means cheating in an exam.

Dash ダッシュ

Rōmaji: dasshu

"Dash" in Japanese means a rush or a hurry.

Diet ダイエット

Rōmaji: daietto

Any kind of weight-loss regimen, including exercise-based, is called a "diet". However, daietto is not used to mean diet in the sense of "things eaten", which is jōshoku (常食) in Japanese.

Don't mind ドンマイ

Rōmaji: donmai

Donmai means "Never mind!".

Feminist フェミニスト

Rōmaji: feminisuto

A man who pampers women.

Fried potato フライド ポテト

Rōmaji: furaido poteto

"Fried potato" or just poteto means chips (UK) or french fries.

Glamour グラマー

Rōmaji: guramā

"Glamour" is used in Japan as an adjective to describe large-breasted women.

Goo グー

Rōmaji: gū

The mysterious word "goo" is actually an abbreviation of "good", hence the shop name "Wonder Goo".

Half ハーフ

Rōmaji: hāfu

The word "half" is used as a noun to mean a person who is mixed-race or half-Japanese.

Handle ハンドル

Rōmaji: handoru

A car's steering wheel.

Happening ハプニング

Rōmaji: hapuningu

"Happening" means an unexpected occurrence or a surprise.

High tension ハイ テンション

Rōmaji: hai tenshon

A person who is "high tension" in Japanese is not someone who is tense or nervous, but excited, excitable, or hyperactive. The Japanese comes from the use of "tension" to mean "voltage", thus a "high tension" person in Japanese is like a "live wire" in English.

Image イメージ

Rōmaji: imēji

An "image" is an artist's impression. Imēji is used for, for example, artist's impressions of as-yet-unconstructed buildings.

Juice ジュース

Rōmaji: jūsu

"Juice" in Japanese is used not just for fruit juice, but as a word for soft drinks in general, including Coca-Cola or even green tea.

Mansion マンション

Rōmaji: manshon

A "mansion" in Japan is a block of flats or condominium.

Pierce ピアス

Rōmaji: piasu

Pierced earrings

Present プレゼント する

Rōmaji: purezento suru

Purezento suru means "give a present".

Print プリント

Rōmaji: purinto

An advertising flyer or a handout at school.

Reform リフォーム

Rōmaji: rifōmu

House redecoration, refurbishment, or repair is called "reform" in Japanese, possibly from a false construction "re-form".

Seal シール

Rōmaji: shiiru

A sticker.

Sense センス

Rōmaji: sensu

To have good taste may be referred to as sensu ga aru "to have sense" in Japanese.

Smart スマート

Rōmaji: sumāto

Slim, not fat.

Talent タレント

Rōmaji: tarento

TV personality.

Trainer トレーナー

Rōmaji: torēnā

A sweat shirt.

Unique ユーニーク

Rōmaji: yūniiku

"Unique" is used in Japanese as a substitute for koseiteki (個性的), "individual", "unusual".

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

References and links


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