A few more confusing Japanese loanwords

By | March 4, 2019

As you may know, the Japanese language borrows many words from other languages. If you happen to know the original word in question this is often extremely convenient, however in some cases the meaning (or at least the nuance) of the word can be significantly changed.

I’ve written a post about confusing loanwords before, but there are so many I thought I would make a second post. Some of these you will probably figure out by context, but for others it will be helpful to be prepared.

コーナー (koonaa)

While this word sounds like it comes from “corner”, it actually is frequently used to refer to a section of a store. For example, the 布団コーナー (futon koonaa) would be the area where futon mattresses are sold.

フード (fuudo)

This word sounds just like “food”, and perhaps sometimes it can be used for that meaning. But I have heard it more often for “hood”, like the hood of a jacket.

アラフォー (arafoo)

At first, this word may not even sound like English. But it actually comes from the phrase “around forty”, and refers to people whose age is around 40.

フットワーク (futtowaaku)

While this word originally comes from “footwork”, it can be used a little different than it’s English counterpart. For example, one common phrase using this is フットワークが軽い (futtowaaku ga karui). While this literally means “(someone’s) footwork is light” it is also used in a metaphorical sense to refer to a person who can adjust quickly to new situations.

コスパ (kosupa)

This is another word that doesn’t really sound like English, but you might be surprised to find out it is actually a shortening of “cost performance” (コスト・パフォーマンス), and refers to whether you get enough value for what you pay.

ハンドル (handoru)

This word sounds much like the English word “handle”, though if you used it interchangeably you might confuse people. That’s because it generally is used to mean a steering wheel.

ギャル (gyaru)

While this word comes from “girl”, it’s more often used to refer to a specific class of girls who are particularly “fashion conscious”. See the English Wikipedia page for more information.

ベッドイン (beddoin)

This one comes from the English words “bed” and “in”. As for the meaning…we’ll let’s just say it involves two people getting in a bed (:

ニヒル (nihiru)

While some Japanese loanwords come from everyday words, sometimes you’ll find a particularly abstract or uncommon one. “Nihiru” is one such word; it can be used to refer to a Nihilistic person (there are several ways of defining this, but one is “a person who believes life is meaningless”).

〜ちっく (~chikku)

Rather than being a word, this is actually a suffix that means “like” or “~ish”. For example ”ホラーチック” (horaachikku) means “horror-like”. I believe it came from words such as “romantic”, which happens to be a common loanword in Japanese (ロマンチック).

The Japanese word “的” (teki) can be used in a similar way.

ストレート (sutoreeto)

This word comes from the English word “straight”, and while it can be used in several different ways in Japanese, from my experience the primary meaning is “frank” or “candid”. For example, “ストレートに言いなさい” (sutoreeto ni iinasai) means something like, “Speak candidly”. It’s important to note that the “に” here helps to transform the word into an adjective.

レベル (reberu)

This comes from the word “level”, and (like ストレート) has several different uses. But the one I have heard the most commonly used is with expressions like レベルが低い (reberu ga hikui). This literally means “Level is low” and refers to something or someone being below a certain standard or having sub-par quality. Similarly, レベルが高い can express the opposite: being above a certain standard.

レーベル (reeberu)

While sounding almost the same as レベル, this word actually has a completely different meaning: “label” or “record label”.

ドライバー (doraibaa)

Coming from “driver”, this word also has several uses. But I have heard it mostly commonly used to mean “screwdriver”. A more traditional way to say screwdriver is ねじ回し (nejimawashi).

デート (deeto)

This word comes from “date”, but is typically used to refer to a romantic meeting as opposed to a specific date on the calendar. It can also be used as a verb together with suru (ex: デートしよう)

ブロック (burokku)

This loanword comes from the English word “block” and can be used to describe things like Lego blocks. However, I have also heard it used as a verb (with suru) to mean blocking something, like a phone number.

キャリア (kyaria)

I vividly remember the first time I heard this word because it sounded like “carrier”, and it took some explaining by the other party for me to finally realize it meant “career”. I think the reason it sounds like “carrier” is because the intonation pattern in Japanese roughly matches up with the accent pattern of that word in English (on the first syllable), unlike “career” that has an accent on the second syllable.

リアル (riaru)

This one comes from the word “real”, though the meaning is a little different than you might expect. Rather than meaning something that is part of reality, it is often used in Japanese to mean something real-like, or “realistic”. This word can be used as several different parts of speech.

First, it can be used as a na-adjective:

  • 結構リアルな話ですね。(kekkou riaru na hanashi desu ne)
  • It’s a pretty realistic story, isn’t it?

It can also be used together with “ni” as an adjective:

  • この漫画はとてもリアルに描かれてる。 (kono manga wa totemo riaru ni egakareteru).
  • This manga is drawn very realistically.

Finally, just like with other Japanese adjectives this word can be used with “sa” to turn it into a noun.

  • すごいリアルさだ! (sugoi riarusa da)
  • Amazing realism!

These are good examples of how foreign words can be integrated tightly into the Japanese language as if they were Japanese words to begin with.

(Featured image of a question mark on a blackboard from Pexels.com)

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