For English speakers learning Japanese, one of the few natural advantages we have is that many English words have been assimilated into Japanese. Particularly in the business world, you can find transliterated words like chiimu (team), fookasu (focus) and taimingu (timing) everywhere. If you’re grasping for a Japanese word and want to have a punt, take the English word, switch the vowels around a bit, add an extra vowel sound on the end and you may have chanced upon a loan word with the same meaning.
Except when you haven’t. Frequently, English words imported into Japanese take on subtly different shades of meaning, or are massaged into completely different words altogether.
Here’s an interesting series of reassigned English words I learned recently. Can you guess their meanings in Japanese? The words are:
- baby car – (bebii kaa)
- open car – (oopen kaa)
- vacuum car – (bakyuumu kaa)
- my car – (mai kaa)
Okay, let’s see how you did:
- baby car = stroller
- I saw my neighbour walking her son in a baby car today.
- open car = convertible car
- I could tell he was having a mid-life crisis when he bought an open car.
- vacuum car = septic tank pumping truck
- Thank goodness we don’t have vacuum cars in big towns any more.
- my car (noun) = privately owned car
- Not, it’s not a rental, it’s a “my car“.
And there’s plenty more where that came from. You certainly never run out of things to learn being a language student, even when facing things you thought you already knew inside and out.