I’ve heard many new loanwords since writing those articles, and have been able to guess their general meaning often just from knowing the corresponding English word. But once in a while one comes up that is particularly difficult to grasp because it’s meaning has evolved from English. Today I’d like to focus on the loanword “テンション” (“tenshon”), which is a good example of this.
“テンション”, as you might have guessed, originally comes from the English word “tension”. In fact, when I checked this word’s meaning in a Japanese/English dictionary it simply said it meant “tense” or “tension”.
However, I’d heard this word several times, either said in a movie or to me directly, and the meaning didn’t seem to fit with the English concept of being “tense”.
Rather than used by itself as a noun, テンション is typically used with “高い” (“takai”, high) or “低い” (“hikui”, low). Let’s look at an example:
- 今日、テンションが高いんだけど、どうしたの？ (Kyou, tenshon ga takai n da kedo, doushita no?)
Using the concept of “tense” with “high”, you might guess this means there is a “high tension” situation, which carries a negative connotation.
However, this phrase is actually used to describe a sense of excitement with a more positive nuance. Here is a translation in English:
- You seem pretty excited today. Whats going on?
Similarly, “テンションが低い” would mean there is a lack of excitement, or could even be used to refer to depression.
If you check out a Japanese/Japanese dictionary for this word, you’ll actually get a much better set of definitions. In addition to “緊張” (something like a state of tension), you’ll see ”気分や気持ち” which are words that roughly refer to “feelings”.
It took me a bit of thought before I was able to link “テンションが高い” with “excitement”, but after I made the connection I did a quick search and found someone who had a similar experience to me and came to a similar conclusion. Some of the English translations on that page are a bit awkward (who says “full of beans” anymore?), but overall it has a good explanation of this word, and for moderate to advanced learners can be a good way to practice your reading skills.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese have found a way to fit even more English into this phrase with the variant “ハイテンション” (hai tenshon), which means pretty much the same thing as “テンションが高い”.