English words, but Japanese meanings


I had one of these “you know you’ve been in Japan too long” moments reading this list, as for three or four of them I had to stop and think if they really were Japanese inventions, 和製英語, wasei eigo, Japanese-style English! How many of these expressions that the Japanese didn’t know were Japanese-English, as reported by goo Ranking, did you have to mentally double-check? The survey was conducted between the 28th and 30th of August 2007.

Ranking results

Q: What expressions were you unaware that they were really Japanes-English?

1オーダーメイドOrder-madeThis should be “custom-made”, although I must admit to having forgotton that!100
2スキンシップSkin-shipPersonal contact, physical contact within a family or pet relationship89.9
3コンセントConsentOutlet if you’re American, socket if you’re from the UK. The expression comes from “concentric plug”, apparently88.9
4キーホルダーKey holderKey ring85.8
5パワーハラスメントPower HarassmentBullying, in the workplace primarily. I was surprised that this isn’t English!85.2
6デコレーションケーキDecoration CakeFancy cake83.3
7ガードマンGuardmanSecurity guard79.9
8コインランドリーCoin laundryLaundromat, according to the survey, but “coin laundry” is also acceptable, is it not?75.9
9リフォームReformRenovation, used when a home or commercial building is remodelled either partially or fully75.3
10リベンジRevengeReturn match75.1
11グレードアップGrade upUpgrade74.2
12ナンバーディスプレイNumber displayCaller ID71.8
14フリーサイズFree sizeOne-size-fits-all70.1
15マグカップMug cupMug67.1
16ベビーカーBaby carBaby carriage66.2
17メールマガジンMail magazineEmail newsletter65.9
18ノートパソコンNote pasoconLaptop. Here “note” is short for “notebook” and “pasocon” comes from “personal computer”65.4
19パンティストッキングPanty stockingPantyhose65.0
20マニアManiaEnthusiasm, rather than implying a serious mental disorder as the English term perhaps does63.8
21ワンパターンOne patternManneristic61.3
22フライドポテトFried potatoFrench fries. This one seems a bit of a stretch to me, though.61.1
23スリーサイズThree sizeMeasurements, vital statistics, bust, waist and hips – that’s another one – Japanese use hip (or ヒップ) to mean bottom59.7
24プラスアルファPlus alphaAdditional value. I saw on the television that this came from baseball. Someone saw an American scoreboard with an “x” in one box, but he misread it as α, and it stuck.57.0
25ペーパーテストPaper testWritten examination. A similar expression is “paper driver”, someone who has a license but no car.56.3
26リストラRestraDownsizing. The Japanese is an abbreviation of “restructuring”56.0
27ファンタジックFantasicFantastic. Apparently the misspelling comes from video games, and seems to have got stuck in Japanese53.1
28ラジカセRaji-caseBoom box. The expression comes from “radio-cassette”52.6
29テレビゲームTV gameVideo game50.7
30ガソリンスタンドGasoline standGas station, petrol station49.3
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  1. kara said,
    January 12, 2010 @ 10:15

    Unfortunately “manneristic” is not a real word either… do you perhaps mean “characteristic” , or maybe “mannerism”?

    Thanks for an interesting web site.

  2. nanashi said,
    January 30, 2010 @ 17:18

    ワンパターン repetitive (wasei: one pattern); one track mind; being in a rut, monotonous (from reading tutor and jisho.org)

    wow, didn’t know some of these…but others just make so much sense!

  3. MightyJAK said,
    January 7, 2011 @ 05:49

    I must agree with you regarding #8; I live in southeastern Wisconsin, and only about 1 of every 10 of the laundromats I’ve seen actually use the word “laundromat” in their signs, the other 9 out of 10 are marked as “Coin Laundry”.

  4. John Velvo said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 08:08

    “Mania” is used to mean “enthusiasm” in English as well (hence “Beatle-Mania”.)

  5. Lurker said,
    August 16, 2011 @ 13:14

    #25 is not solely Japanese. I’ve heard it many times as opposed to a practical exam, or a computerized one. I’ve heard the use of “paper” to mean “in name only” before as well. Probably the best example is “paper tiger”.

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