Many words written in katakana may seem to be English to Japanese people, but English speakers don't know what they mean. For example, "salaryman", meaning "office worker". These words are called wasei eigo, 'English made in Japan'.
However, not all katakana words unfamiliar to an English speaker are wasei-eigo. For example, "pan" for bread comes from Portuguese, and "bisu" for "screw" comes from French. See Words from other languages. The Japanese have also given new meanings to existing English words. See What "false friends" are there between Japanese and English?
Here are some well-known wasei eigo words.
Ōru bakku (オールバック) means swept back hair.
Amerikan kōhii (アメリカンコーヒー) means weak coffee.
"Koohii" is from Dutch (see Which Japanese words come from Dutch?).
Amerikan doggu (アメリカンドッグ) means corn dog.
A frankfurter on a stick dipped in batter and deep-fried.
Bebii kā (ベビーカー) means 'pram/stroller'.
Bōru pen (ボールペン) means ballpoint pen.
Betto taun (ベットタウン) or beddo taun (ベッドタウン) means commuter town.
Botoru kiipu (ボトルキープ) means The practice of buying a bottle of spirits at a bar which is then kept there for the customer.
Seru mōtā (セルモーター) means starter motor.
Chenjirebā (チェンジレバー) means gear stick, gearshift.
Chia gāru (チアガール) means 'cheerleader'.
Konsento (コンセント) means electric socket.
From "concentric plug". See What is the origin of konsento for electric sockets?
Kūrā (クーラー) means air conditioner.
Kafusu botan (カフスボタン) means cuff link.
The Japanese word botan (ボタン) originates from Portuguese. See Which Japanese words come from Portuguese?
Dekorēshonkēki (デコレーションケーキ) means decorated cake.
Diipu kisu (ディープキス) means tongue kiss.
Dokutā sutoppu (ドクターストップ) means a doctor's instructions to slow down or give up something like tobacco, alcohol.
Dampukā (ダンプカー) means dump truck, dumper.
Furiisaizu (フリーサイズ) means one size fits all.
Furiitā (フリーター) means a permanent casual worker; a person who only does casual jobs.
May be formed from English "free" and German "arbeiter".
Furonto garasu (フロントガラス) means windscreen (UK), windshield (US).
Furūtsubiiru (フルーツビール) means cider or perry.
"Cider" is used to refer to a fizzy drink. See What "false friends" are there between Japanese and English?
Jii pan (ジーパン) means 'jeans'.
G-pan is an abbreviated combination of jii (ジー) from "jeans" (ジーン ズ) and pan (パン) from "pants" (パンツ). See also What are contracted words like rimokon? for more words like this.
Gēmu sentā (ゲームセンター) means video game arcade.
Gasorinsutando (ガソリンスタンド) means gas station, petrol station.
Gōruden awā (ゴールデンアワー) means `prime time' television.
Gōruden wiiku (ゴールデンウィーク) means a week around the end of April and beginning of May.
This period of time contains several national holidays. Showa Day, Shōwa no Hi (昭和の日) is on April 29, Constitution Memorial Day, Kenpō Kinenbi (憲法記念日), is on May 3, Greenery Day Midori no Hi (みどりの日) is on May 4, and Children's Day Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日) is on May 5. Japanese people often use these days to take extended vacation.
Gurabia aidoru (グラビアアイドル) means glamour model, bikini model.
The word "gravure", gurabia (グラビア), originates from a form of printing used for photography. The "gravure" pages of magazines were the pages containing photographs, thus "gravure idol" became used to describe the women who appeared in glamour shots. Similarly, a woman who appears in adult videos (AV), who would be called a "porn star" in English, is described as an AV idol (AV アイドル).
Gādo man (ガードマン) means Security guard.
Formations with -man, like "guardman" or "salaryman", are common in wasei-eigo.
Herusu mētā (ヘルスメーター) means bathroom scales.
Harō wāku (ハローワーク) means job centre.
Hai misu (ハイミス) means 'spinster'.
This word is not used much any more.
Jetto kōsutā (ジェットコースター) means 'roller-coaster'.
Risutoappu (リストアップ) means select, make a selection.
Raibu hausu (ライブハウス) means A bar with live music.
Rabu hoteru (ラブホテル) means An hourly-rate hotel.
Used by couples for short stays.
Majikkutēpu (マジックテープ) means 'Velcro'.
Mēru magajin (メールマガジン) means e-mail newsletter.
Mainasu doraibā (マイナスドライバー) means a flat-bladed, flat-tip or slot-head screwdriver.
A phillips screwdriver is called a "plus driver".
Misu kontesuto (ミスコンテスト) means beauty contest.
Mōningu sābisu (モーニングサービス) means cheaper than usual breakfast combination.
Magu kappu (マグカップ) means 'mug'.
Mai kā (マイカー) means owning one's own car.
Mai hōmu (マイホーム) means owning one's own home.
Mai pēsu (マイペース) means doing things at one's own pace.
Nyū hāfu (ニューハーフ) means drag artist, shemale, ladyboy, or transsexual.
Naitā (ナイター) means nighttime baseball game.
Nōto (ノート) or nōtobukku (ノートブック) means 'laptop'.
Wan piisu (ワンピース) means a woman's dress.
Wan patān (ワンパターン) means 'repetitive'.
Ōnrii wan (オーンリーワン) or onrii wan (オンリーワン) means 'unique'.
"Unique" has already been co-opted by the Japanese for the meaning of "unusual" or "original". See What "false friends" are there between Japanese and English? Hence perhaps the invention of "only one".
Pea rukku (ペアルック) means a couple wearing similar clothes.
Pēpā doraiba (ペーパードライバ) means a person with a driving licence who rarely drives.
Penchi (ペンチ) means 'pliers'.
This is said to originate from "pinch" or "pinchers".
Paipu katto (パイプカット) means 'vasectomy'.
Purē gaido (プレーガイド) means ticket sales office.
Purasu doraibā (プラスドライバー) means a phillips screwdriver..
This is named for the shape of the screw head. A slot screwdriver is called a "minus driver".
Poketto beru or pokeberu (ポケットベルorポケベル) means 'pager'.
Pusshu hon (プッシュホン) or pusshu fon (プッシュフォン) means touch-tone phone.
Sarariman (サラリマン) means male office worker.
Shāpu penshiru (シャープペンシル) means mechanical pencil, propelling pencil.
The name "sharp pencil" originates from a tradename for mechanical pencils.
Saido burēki (サイドブレーキ) means 'handbrake'.
Sain pen (サインペン) means felt-tipped pen.
Shirubā shiito (シルバーシート) means A seat on buses and trains reserved for elderly passengers..
The "silver" refers to the hair colour of seniors.
Sukinshippu (スキンシップ) means close relationship.
Sōpu rando (ソープランド) means 'brothel'.
A previous euphemism was Toruko from "Turkish baths".
Sofuto kuriimu (ソフトクリーム) means soft ice cream.
"Soft cream" in Japan means the kind of ice cream served from a nozzle, rather than scooped.
Supiido daun (スピードダウン) means slow down.
A false formation by analogy from "speed up".
Sutoppu za (ストップザ) means 'stop'.
"Stop the" is often used in slogans. For example there is a radio show sutoppu za kōtsūjiko (ストップ・ザ・交通事故), "stop the road accidents".
Shimboru māku (シンボルマーク) means 'logo'.
T bakku (Tバック) means 'thong'.
The name is from the shape of the straps around the buttocks.
Tēburu sentā (テーブルセンター) means centrepiece of a table.
Tēburu supiichi (テーブルスピーチ) means speeches at parties.
Surii saizu (スリーサイズ) means female body measurements (bust, waist, hip).
Taitoru bakku (タイトルバック) means film credits.
This seems to be an abbreviation of "title background".
Tsūpiisu (ツーピース) means a woman's suit, a garment with matching top and skirt..
Appu (アップ) means 'improvement'.
The word "up" is used in combinations such as "healthy up" or "slim up" to mean any kind of improvement.
Bideo dekki (ビデオデッキ) means video recorder.
Baikingu (バイキング) means 'buffet'.
The word "viking" was apparently originally used as a substitute for "smörgåsbord" by Tetsuzo Inumaru of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in 1957, and nowadays it is often used to mean an "all you can eat" buffet.
Bājin rōdo (バージンロード) means the aisle of a church at a wedding.
Waishatsu (ワイシャツ) means a dress shirt, a white shirt..
Waido shō (ワイドショー) means a television variety show.
Thanks to Keiichiro Sugimoto for permission to use the information from his list in the above.
Copyright © 1994-2021 Ben Bullock