Category Archives: Word Origins

Japanese expressions “nimaime” (二枚目) and “sanmaime” (三枚目): the good, and the funny

While interactions with native Japanese speakers I have occasionally come across the expressions “nimaime” (二枚目) and “sanmaime” (三枚目). It turns out they have somewhat opposite meanings and are easy to confuse, so I thought I would go over their meanings and origins here. As you may know, “mai” (枚) is used as a counting suffix… Read More »

Japanese expression highlight: “ああ言えばこう言う” (aa ieba kou iu)

In this article I would like to talk about an interesting Japanese phrase: “aa ieba kou iu” (ああ言えばこう言う). This, like many of the phrases of expressions I write about on this blog, is a phrase that I have heard used in conversations with native speakers as well as used myself. This expression is interesting because… Read More »

A confusing Japanese loanword in English: “Hibachi” (it may not mean what you think it does!)

Sometime a while ago I wrote an article about confusing Japanese loanwords which originally came from English words, and then a week or so ago I wrote another article about the reverse: a confusing English loanword that came from Japanese. Very recently I learned of another word that falls in this second category, so I… Read More »

Japanese expression: “七光り” (nana hikari) – Benefits received on account of a father

In this post I’d like to introduce another expression that I picked up from everyday conversation with a Japanese native speaker: “七光り” (“nanahikari”) You may have noticed that this word literally means “seven lights”, but out of context it is hard to guess what it actually means. So let’s look at an example sentence. 彼は親の七光りでその会社についたよ。… Read More »

Alternative responses to “arigatou” (thank you) in Japanese besides “dou itashimashite” (you’re welcome)

Emphasis on manners and politeness is one of the key characteristics of both Japanese culture as well as an integral part of the language itself Beginners generally start with basic phrases like “ありがとう” (arigatou), “ごめん” (gomen), and “どういたしまして” (dou itashimashite), but eventually learn better ways to express themselves in a variety of situations. In this… Read More »

Japanese Word Highlight: 超訳 (chouyaku), the “extreme translation”

Recently when I was reading a book with explanations of old Japanese (for example a Matsuo Bashō poem from over 300 years ago), I came across the word 超訳 (pronounced ‘chouyaku’). I had never seen this word before, despite having prepared this vocabulary list which included a few terms about translation. While the word was not… Read More »

A discussion about the origin of Japan’s name (日本, nihon / nippon)

It’s amazing how you can study a foreign language for so long, yet somehow overlook what seem like basic things. The other day I was reading a book about Japan written for elementary school children which talked about Japan’s history and culture. On one of the first few pages, it said that the Japanese call their country… Read More »

あらせられます (araseraremasu): A triple-polite Japanese word

One of the distinguishing things about the Japanese language is how there are many different ways to say the same thing while varying the level of politeness. For example, the below words all mean “to eat” in increasing levels of politeness. 食う (kuu) 食べる (taberu) 召し上げる (meshiageru) Besides the many different verbs, there is also… Read More »

Useful Japanese expression: shikata nai (仕方ない) and a bunch of variants

The phrase “仕方ない” (shikata nai) is one that I learned very early in my Japanese studies and I’ve found it to be fairly commonly used, as well as pretty straightforward to understand. The word 仕方 (shikata) means “way to do something” or “method”. For example, since お礼 means “thanks”, then お礼の仕方 means “the way to thank”… Read More »

More about the origin of the Japanese word くるま (kuruma) [a confession]

In my last post, I wrote about how the Japanese word “くるま” (which means “car”) originated from the words ”来る” (to come) and “魔” (devil). While these two words are actual words with the meanings I specified, the truth is that they have nothing to do with the word ”くるま”. After all, my post yesterday was written on April… Read More »