Japanese English – Loan words gone wrong (with audio) – 和製英語 / 日本語英語


Loan words sometimes take on whole new meanings: for example the word ‘parka’ in Japan refers to a ‘hooded sweatshirt’ or ‘hoodie’ as opposed to the jacket commonly called a ‘parka’ in English:


I’d be really curious to dig into the etymology of these kinds of words, and it’s probably fairly easy to trace their emergence because they came into use so recently. Perhaps parka entered Japanese not from english but from another language where the term already had this different meaning? Or, perhaps it was originally used as a brandname for a hooded sweatshirt?

Or, perhaps it’s illustrative of the nature of loan words themselves, where their lack of history makes them especially malleable and prone to mistaken meanings shortly after they’re introduced.

Regardless, here is a list of ‘loan words gone wrong,’ which sound as if they’ve come from english, but who’s meaning may not be immediately apparent to english-speakers, and words that sound like loan words but are in fact neologisms:

  • Paper driver – Peipaa doraibaa – ペーパー ドライバー – someone who has their driver’s license but doesn’t actually drive or know how to drive well. 

  • Y-Shirt – Wai Shatzu – Y-シャツ – Dress Shirt. Business Shirt. Like a T-shirt, get it?
  • Tension – Tenshon – テンション – something like energy, spirit, excitement. Often heard in context of it rising or lowering. So if ‘Tenshon’ rises, (テンションが上がる) that means spirits or energy are rising, whereas ‘Tenshon’ dropping (テンションが下がる) means becoming disappointed or discouraged.
  • Juice – Juusu – ジュース – A pet peeve of mine, in Japanese ‘Juusu’ refers to fruit/vegetable juice and sodas. Basically any non-alcoholic beverage. To be fair there was already a word for fruit juice ‘Kaju-’ (果汁). And, don’t even get me started on watermelon not being considered a fruit
  • Bitch – Bicchi -ビッチ –  to try to not be crass a… promiscuous woman. ヤリマン, whereas in english, according to the mirriam webster dictionary a bitch means ‘often offensive : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse.’manshon
  • Manshion – Manshon – マンション – Large apartment building. High-rise apartment building, as opposed to the American English palatial personal estate. Though, dictionaries mention the British english definition of ‘a large building divided into apartments’Apaato
  • Apartment – Apa-to – アパート – Smaller, usually cheaper, apartment building. Can kind of resemble a motel.
  • Jet Coaster – Jetto Kousuta – ジェットコースター – A rollercoaster. This is a great word, much more poetic than the rollercoaster.
  • Ice – Aisu – アイス – Ice Cream
  • Soft Cream – Sofuto kuriimu – ソフトクリーム – Soft Serve (Ice Cream)
  • Cooler – Kuuraa – クーラー – Air Conditioner (A.C.)
  • Stove – Sto-bu – ストーブ – Heater


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