English-Japanese neologism

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Japanese is full of loanwords from English, a phenomenon we have often discussed on Language Log, e.g.:

"Too many English loanwords in Japanese?" (7/12/13)

Not only does Japanese like to borrow words from English, it is fond of borrowing parts of words and combining them with Japanese morphemes to make hybrid coinages.  It's not always easy — even for a native speaker of Japanese — to figure out some of these inventions, because you only have part of a katakanized English word fused with part of a Japanese word.

This happened to Cecilia Segawa Seigle when she was reading the Asahi Shinbun the other morning and encountered "sasu-gaku サス学".  She puzzled over that for quite a while, though of course she immediately recognized that "-gaku 学" meant "-ology", the study of something.  But what was the "sasu- サス" portion?

Finally, after poking around on Japanese Google, she figured out that "sasu- サス" stands for the "sus-" of "sustainability".  So, as she writes:

…sasu-gaku is a study or figuring out the ways of sustaining this world as new ideas and problems are born one after another — "research for sustaining".  I still don't understand the meaning too well and who is a sus-gakusha ("specialist in sustaining" — I just made up this expression). But this is another word I wouldn't have understood unless I looked it up on Japanese Google.

I have often blogged about similar phenomena in Mandarin, e.g.:

"Transcriptional and hybrid words in Mandarin" (3/6/14)

"A New Morpheme in Mandarin" (4/26/11)

At the end of the latter post, I described a novel called China Babel that I wrote about 20 years ago (still unpublished — never really tried to get it published because I don't have time for it) in which I described the probable results of such processes of linguistic hybridity.  Fascinating to contemplate.


  1. Matt_M said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 10:59 am

    Another lovely example of such partial borrowing is the Thai word ซิ่ง (pronounced "sing", with a falling tone), which refers to car racing, especially illegal street racing. It's derived from the final syllable of the English word "racing".

  2. Jamie said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

    Even purely English borrowings can be obscure in Japanese. I don't think that one could work out that レミコン (remicon) means ready-mixed concrete (this appears to be used in other languages now, including English) or that エンスト (ensuto) means to stall a car (short for engine stop).

  3. Bob Ladd said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

    You don't have to go to Japanese to find English-based words that would mystify most English speakers. The Dutch word horeca, which refers to wholesale food and beverage supply and related activities, apparently comes from English HOtel REstaurant CAtering.

  4. Nikhil said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

    Horeca is actually used internationally, definitely in Spain, and is known to people in the consumer goods industry.

  5. Bathrobe said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 11:04 pm

    サス学 sasu-gaku

    Is there a possible overlap here with さすが sasuga, which has a positive meaning something like "just as you'd expect! (from someone with such admirable qualities/great abilities)"?

  6. Elise said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 12:58 am

    Bathrobe: I don't know if it was intended, but that would make a great ad encouraging Japanese students to study sustainability.

    'Solving the world's problems? さすがサス学!’

  7. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 9:06 am

    "Bathrobe" reminds me of how バス (basu) in Japanese can mean bath, bus or bass.

  8. Rodger C said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 11:28 am

    "Bathrobe" reminds me of how バス (basu) in Japanese can mean bath, bus or bass.

    *Asks with trepidation* The fish or the vocal range?

  9. julie lee said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 11:39 am

    Coby Lubliner:

    The word "ba 巴" in Mandarin and Cantonese can mean bus (from Cantonese 巴士 "basi", Mandarin "bashi") and liquor bar (from Mandarin 酒吧 "jiuba") .
    "Ba" can also mean Palestine, Palestinian ( Mandarin 巴勒斯坦 ba-le-si-tan) and Pakistan (巴基斯坦 ba-ji-si-tan). So the Israeli-Palestinian war is in Mandarin the I-ba war, and an Indian-Pakistanian war would be a
    Yin-ba war.

  10. Francois Lang said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    I'd never heard of "horeca", but it's like Sodexho, which I believe comes from the French "SOciete d'EXploitation HOteliere".

  11. Akito said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 2:30 am

    Learned a new Korean word today: 셀카봉 selkabong, "selfie stick", made up of SELf + CAmera + 棒 bong, "stick". The Japanese equivalent is more straightforward: 自撮り棒 jidoribou, "self-taking stick". What's the Chinese word?

  12. Scott said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 4:34 pm

    Matt_M, isn't that "sing" example quite the opposite, and not an example of hybridization at all? A hybrid would be something like the spanish "googlear", i.e. "to google"

  13. julie lee said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 8:20 pm


    "Selfie stick" is advertised on the internet as “zipaigun自拍棍” (self taking stick) and “zipaibang自拍棒” (self taking rod).

  14. Akito said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 10:57 pm

    Thank you, julie lee! Perhaps Chinese doesn't resort to hybrid coinage as often as Korean and Japanese, although it certainly does at times, e.g., 房卡 fángkǎ, "card key".

  15. Matt_M said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 3:40 am


    Yes, you're right. I guess I missed the main focus of the blog post. The similarity between "sing" and "sasu-gaku" lies in the fact that they both involve borrowing only a small part of word — not even a complete morpheme — with the result that native speakers of the source language are completely stumped.

  16. julie lee said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 10:44 am

    Akito, Scott, Matt_M,

    In Chinese topolects, true hybrids where a syllable or syllables of a foreign word is dropped are common with names:

    Fojiao 佛教 ("fo religion" meaning Buddhism, where "fo" 佛 stands for Bud- in Buddha. "Fo" had in earlier times a sound something like "pot" (for Bud-), and "fo" comes from 佛圖 (fo tu or fotu, Buddha). Buddha is in Chinese topolects (and has been for centuries) simply called "Fo".

    Huijiao 回教( "hui religion" , meaning Islam. Hui 回 stands for Uighur, which in Mandarin is "hui wu er, or huiwuer" . So huijiao ("hui religion" or Islam literally is "the Uighur religion".)

    耶教yejiao ("ye religion", meaning "Jesu (yesu耶穌, Jesus) religion", or Christianity. Christianity is more commonly called jidujiao 基督教 or "jidu 基督(i.e. Christu)religion)“.

    Hybrids are common with names of countries:

    meiguo 美國 ("mei country" meaning America, where mei comes from 亞美利加 ya mei li jia "America")

    deguo 德國 ("de country", Germany, from "Deutschland")

    faguo 法國 ("fa country", France, from fa lan xi 法蘭西 "France"),

    and so on.

  17. julie lee said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 10:59 am

    Sorry, the post is about neologisms, but all the examples I gave are old words. I couldn't think of a true hybrid in current Mandarin where a syllables or syllables of a foreign word is dropped. All the neologisms in Mandarin I could think of only dropped the final consonant or consonant-cluster, e.g. ka (for card), pa (for part), ka ss (for cast).

  18. Akito said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 11:29 am

    "サス学" appears to be the registered trademark of Mitsui & Co.
    No wonder it isn't everywhere.

  19. Dave Cragin said,

    June 23, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

    Julie – Thanks for the full explanation of "American" in Chinese.

    When I 1st learned 美国/meiguo, I thought it was so nice that Chinese would call us "beautiful country." Then a friend explained it was more based on the sound. However, I didn't know it came from "ya mei li jia"

  20. julie lee said,

    June 24, 2016 @ 2:09 pm


    Thanks for your comment. All these hybrid words used to puzzle me. Mandarin "jidu religion" (jidu jiao 基督教, Christianity) for instance. "Jidu" comes from Mandarin "ji li si du " (Christu), which probably comes from Cantonese, where the "ji" is pronounced "gei", closer in sound to "Ch-".

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