Too many recent Japanese loanwords in English?

« previous post | next post »

In "Chinese loans in English" and in "Too many English loanwords in Japanese?" we examined the propositions that Chinese borrowings into English in recent times have been very few, while English borrowings into Chinese and Japanese have been relatively numerous.  Some commenters even made the assertion that the age of borrowing is past.

In this post, I would like to suggest that — unlike Chinese, and contrary to those who believe that the age of borrowing is largely over — there has been a substantial amount of borrowing from Japanese into English going on in recent decades.  As to why this is happening in the Japanese case, but not in the Chinese case, and why there are numerous borrowings from English into Chinese and Japanese, and into many other languages as well, these are questions that might be good to take up in the comments to this post.

As a reference point, this Wikipedia article seems to offer a pretty good list of new and old Japanese borrowings into English.  See also this article in Japanese.

For our present purposes, I will consider only those terms that are fairly recent, say within the last 30 years or so.  I have not checked exact dates of borrowing, so some of these terms may have entered English more than 30 years ago, but my impression is that — for the most part — they do not go back half a century or more.  A few of the words may initially have come into English as much as a century or more ago, then lain submerged for decades, but have been revivified in recent decades.  Still, I avoid words like "yakuza", "judo", and "karate", which, though known to most Americans nowadays, I suspect of having been introduced more than half a century ago.

The Japanese terms are given in their usual American newspaper spelling, not in their proper romanization as pronounced in Japanese.

Here (below) are just a few common words that come to mind and that I personally know without having to look them up in any sort of reference work.  I believe that most literate, cultured Americans also know these words, and that they are familiar to large segments of the American population in general.  I could mention dozens of other Japanese words that are known mainly only to certain groups of Americans (e.g., chemists, biologists, physicists, etc.), but will refrain from doing so to avoid needless bloating of the list.

Note that I do not include in this list the very large numbers of new English words coined by Japanese that have worldwide circulation, words such as "walkman", "discman", "camcorder", "Betamax", "VHS", "Betacam", "Triniton Picture Tube", "Sony", "HDTV" (dating to the mid-1960s in Japan)", "Mini Disc" (abbrev. "MD"), "Pac-Man" (wildly popular when my son was in his teens), Hello Kitty (I have one hanging from the window of my office, and a colleague at Academia Sinica in Taiwan has hundreds in his office), and so forth.

I do include Japanese brand and product names, since they have become household words that are known to Americans of all classes and walks of life.

Here goes, in no particular order, though many of the words do fall into rough groups or categories (forgive me for unintentional duplicates):

  • anime
  • manga
  • karaoke
  • shiatsu
  • tsunami (probably older, but very much in the news in recent years)
  • sudoku (almost as prevalent on trains and planes at crossword puzzles, perhaps more so nowadays)
  • shiba inu
  • kudzu
  • teppanyaki
  • a(d)zuki bean
  • mikan (orange)
  • nashi (type of pear)
  • natto (slimy, sticky, stinky, fermented soybeans)
  • bento
  • ramen
  • sushi
  • sashimi
  • wasabi (could be older, but it's so popular in restaurants and at sushi / sashimi stands that I couldn't resist entering it here)
  • edamame
  • konbucha
  • Datsun
  • Honda
  • Isuzu
  • Kawasaki
  • Mazda
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Subaru
  • Suzuki
  • Toyota
  • Yamaha
  • Minolta
  • Nikon
  • Olympus
  • Seiko
  • Canon
  • Casio
  • Fujitsu
  • JVC
  • NEC
  • Panasonic
  • SEGA
  • Sony
  • Sharp
  • Toshiba
  • Yamaha (again)
  • Aiwa
  • Citizen
  • Daihatsu
  • Fuji
  • Hitachi
  • Konica
  • Matsushita
  • Maxell
  • National
  • Pioneer
  • Ricoh
  • Sanyo
  • TDK
  • Victor
  • Yashica
  • YKK
  • VAIO
  • Uniqlo
  • Bandai  (maker of monster toys like Diakron, marketed in the USA by Hasbro as "Transformer")
  • Pokémon
  • MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry)
  • Minamata disease
  • Yukawa particle
  • Kikuchi lines

Of course, everybody knows Nintendo, and they may think that "Atari" (Japanese for "a hit") is also a Japanese name, but it was actually coined by an American, Nolan Bushnell.

Naturally, there are numerous military and martial arts terms that are current in English, but I think that most of them go back to WWII, if not earlier, so I do not list them here.

Readers may also find this article by Margaret Pine OTAKE to be of interest:  "English Loanwords from Japanese:  A Survey of the Perceptions of American English Speakers" (PDF, esp. Table 1).

On the other side, i.e., E > J loanwords, this has always intrigued me greatly: a list of recent loanwords deemed important but not well understood by the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics may be found here.  Click on a word to get its proposed Japanese translation, explanation, and degree of popular comprehension. For example, clicking ākaibu アーカイブ ("archive") reveals hozon kiroku 保存記録 ("conserved / saved records").

The quantity of English borrowings in Japanese is almost endless.  Sometimes I feel that virtually ANY English word can, upon occasion, be called upon for use in Japanese.  For example, here are just a few of the English words that Cecilia Segawa Seigle noticed in her reading of this morning's newspaper:

gurōbaru (global); kūru bejitaburu (cool vegetable); randamu dejitto daiyaringu (random digit dialing); reshipi shirīzu (recipe series); hōmu pēji (home page); manyuaru (manual); webbusaito (website); anaunsā (announcer); pasokon (personal computer); sutōkā (stalker); shinku tanku (think-tank); kīpāson (key person); pawāappu (power up); pātonāshippu (partnership); sumūzu (smooth); kappuru (couple; married couple, etc); haiburiddo (hybrid); daietto (diet — for food); terebi (television)

To show the extent to which such borrowings of English may go in Japanese, I once saw the following sign on the side of a truck in Kyoto:

Matsumoto   hausu   kurīningu   sābisu

マツモト  ハウス      クリーニング  サービス

I figured out immediately what it meant:  "Matsumoto House Cleaning Service".  But I was perplexed that the entire sign was written in katakana and that, aside from the surname of the proprietor (the surname might have been written in kanji as 松本 [I can't remember clearly, though I have often seen Japanese surnames written in kana]), the other words were all katakanized English!  Surely, I thought, they must be able to say "house", "cleaning", and "service" using Japanese words.

For "cleaning service", I suppose one could say something like seisō-gyō 清掃業, but that would make it sound "traditional", not "modern" like hausu kurīningu sābisu ハウス   クリーニング   サービス.  The latter is THE standard way to say "house cleaning service", and even Google Translate yields that.

In Japan, dry cleaners are customarily called kurīningu-ya クリーニング屋

As Nathan Hopson puts it:

I have told my Japanese students a million times: goods/services = katakana

That's why shirts in catalogs are burū ブルー ("blue") and reddo レッド ("red"), not ao 青 ("blue") and aka 赤 ("red").  How gauche!  What a faux pas!  The latter two terms sound so old, stuffy, and uncool!

In "Too many English loanwords in Japanese", I had suggested that "Japanese students learning English have a foot up at the start, since they already know thousands of English borrowings in their own language".  Jim Breen agrees that this is generally true, but with a few caveats:

  • the pronunciations are often mangled by the katakanaization, and if the learner can't adapt, the results are unintelligible;
  • quite often a loanword takes on a nuance which is quite missing from the original. For example, a feminisuto フェミニスト (from "feminist") is usually a male who does things like being polite to women;
  • there are masses of Wasei eigo 和製英語 ("Japanese-made English"), often concocted from fragments of loanwords. All too often a learner will trot them out under the illusion that they are real English words;
  • then there are the loanwords that are not from English. Saying "randoseru" in English won't get you far (it's from the Dutch "ransel".) Most Japanese (just like most English speakers) are happily unaware of etymology.

In response to the question "Too many English loanwords in Japanese?", another reader asked:  "How many are too many?  I mean, numerically."  To which I would reply that I don't think there can ever be any such thing as "too many loanwords."  The speakers of a language borrow as many words from other languages as they think are necessary and useful.  Loanwords enrich and empower a language, even though they may amount to 60% or more of the vocabulary of that language.

[Thanks to Bill Hannas, Linda Chance, Jim Unger, Frank Chance, Nathan Hopson, and Miki Morita]


  1. The Ridger said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

    Is it really a loanword if it's the name of an entity such as Nikon or Seiko? I mean, I get that they're familiar Japanese words (Back in the 70s I remember joking with a fellow soldier that I knew some Japanese – Kawasaki and Honda), but somehow they seem very different from something like tsunami or anime. And Pioneer or Sharp? They may be Japanese brand names but they're indisputably English words.

  2. Vic Pulver said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

    "Victor" is a Japanese loanword into English?

    Aren't Victor and JVC the English names of a company which was originally the Japanese subsidiary of an American company?

  3. Plane said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

    Kudzu is older, which I believe is the reason it's spelled kudzu rather than kuzu. EtymOnline dates it to 1893.

  4. tudza said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

    Coined the word atari? I thought he just adopted an existing word from shogi since he played the game.

  5. Sjiveru said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

    You've missed a few terms loaned because of anime (tsundere, senpai, moe, etc), though those are probably restricted to a fairly small subset of English speakers.

    It is interesting to me that anime is causing English to loan words related to literary analysis.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    Just ran by a construction site on the Penn campus: Komatsu.

  7. Martin B said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

    I would also suggest umami. WikiP suggests it was recognized as a scientific term in 1985, and certainly my casual impression is that it has only really entered English more recently than that.

  8. Vicki said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    There's a ringer in that list of brand names: "Citizen" is from Latin, and I suspect someone writing a similar article about loan-words in Japanese would count it as a borrowing from English.

  9. bfwebster said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

    "Atari" is also a term from Go. I'm pretty sure Nolan borrowed it, rather than making it up.

  10. Karen Lofstrom said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

    One subset of the English-speaking population that uses Japanese-derived words: practitioners of Zen Buddhism. Words like zafu, zabuton, dokusan, shikantaza, tanto, jisha, samu, etc.

    Another subset: those of us who live in Hawai'i. We know a great many Japanese clothing words, food and drink words, fishing words, words for festivals (Obon, Hanamatsuri), words for customs (bringing back omiyage, food presents, from trips) … I'm having a hard time making a list, because Japanese is part of pidgin and thus everywhere.

    If, like me, you're a Zen practitioner who lives in Hawai'i, you end up with large Japanese vocabulary.

  11. Matt said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    Since this is Language Log, I'd like to point out that "mangle" is a bit of a loaded word for what happens to loanwords in Japanese. In truth they are adapted based on phonotactics and some other factors which may change with the times (e.g. rhotic or non-rhotic English as model? influenced by spelling or not? which vowels palatalize preceding consonants? etc.) but in which regularities can nevertheless be discerned. Loanwords can themselves be intriguing historical data — for example, why was "truck" loaned first as "torokko" and then as "torakku"? Why did "shirt" become "shatsu" but "skirt" "sukaato"? And so on.

  12. Brett said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

    I don't think I've ever heard anybody use "Yukawa particle," and if I did hear it, I would consider it an error. "Yukawa interaction" or "Yukawa potential" are fine, but they are technical terms (no more a part of common usage than "Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix"). The only real particle that has precisely the kind of interaction Yukawa envisioned is actually the "Higgs boson." On the other hand, there are physical particles with a very similar form of interaction to that Yukawa described (it was close enough for him to get a Nobel prize), but they are "pi mesons" or "pions." Neither they nor their heavier analogues are ever called "Yukawa particles."

  13. Dan Milton said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

    "Anime", the first word on your list is, according to the OED, from the Japanese, but the Japanese is from the English "animation".

  14. Victor Mair said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    @Dan Milton

    Great example of a round-trip word!

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    From Bob Ramsey:

    Maybe I can add at least one more, in this case, a genuine loanword, not the name of some new product: skosh. I first heard this word a decade or so ago, when Levis introduced a new line of jeans that seemed to be intended for people facing middle-aged spread. The clincher was when the ad ended with this line: "Just a skosh larger in the hips." I immediately recognized it as being from J sukoshi 'a little', as I'm sure you do as well. But since then I've heard the word used in various other contexts, notably when someone offers to top off the person's drink: "Just a skosh…"

  16. Stephen Austin said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

    If you're including Minamata disease, what about takotsubo cardiomyopathy (aka "broken-heart syndrome")? This takes its name from the fact that the images of the left ventricle of the heart in this condition resemble the shape of a traditional Japanese octopus trap.

    Another medical condition well-known to western physicians is moyamoya disease. This is a congenital form of cerebral arterial occlusion. Tiny collateral vessels develop, giving rise to a characteristic "puff of smoke" appearance on angiography.

    There's also Kawasaki syndrome, which has a less intriguing etymology, being named after the Japanese paediatrician who first described it.

  17. Leslie said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    Two more, both neologisms coined in Japanese and transmitted to English: "reiki" – although it may be too old to qualify, as the practice appears to have first come to the U.S. either shortly before or after WWII; and "seitan" – not a common word for non-vegetarians, perhaps, but a borrowing nonetheless.

  18. Chris said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

    Another round-tripper: "cosplay" < jp. "コスプレ" < en. "costume play" It's probably made its circuit in at most 40 years or so.

  19. Daniel said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

    What about futon?

  20. Aaron Toivo said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

    Anime is a good boomerang borrowing (as I like to call them). Another nice example is "wiki", from Hawaiian "wiki", from English "quick". Another that's still too slangy and too taboo to make it into most lists: "lolicon", from Japanese "rorikon", from English "Lolita complex".

    Speaking of that category, in addition to terms from and about anime, young Americans these days are familiar with an astonishing range of Japanese terms for genres of hentai and other things pornographic. (It is probably best not to list examples, lest readers google them and regret it.)

  21. Ethan said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

    My first reaction was that inclusion of brand names in your list was inappropriate, but upon reflection it highlights a key point.

    Surely a large factor in what words are borrowed is that the words are borrowed precisely because they are attached to an object or consumer product or meme that they describe. Japanese pop culture and Japanese consumer goods continue to be notable imports into the US (and I suppose UK but I'm not there to see it). We wouldn't have had a reason to borrow the word 'mitsubishi' if it only referred to a three-pointed seed sort of thing, but apparently we have a great need for Mitsubishi-branded electronics, cars, and other gubbery. The name and the logo came along with them.

    The past 30 years have not seen a similar wholesale import of Chinese cultural memes, and for complicated reasons the origin of the large number of imported Chinese consumer goods tends to be hidden rather than touted via distinctive Chinese brand names.

    Of course there are at least a small number of exceptions. English borrowed the word "cheongsam" when that style of dress became known through high fashion (late 60s?). Actually it was borrowed multiple times, but it didn't stick until the 60s according to Google Ngrams.

    @Aaron "Hentai" is itself the start of a boomerang cycle. After adoption into English, it made the return trip to Japan as the letter H (katakana エッチ) and is now being reimported into English as "ecchi".

  22. cameron said,

    July 17, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    I second Martin B's suggestion above that umami is a significant omission from the list.

    It's become quite a common word. A couple of years ago I told a friend of mine, a pastry chef, that one of her creations was "an umami bomb" and she told me that in culinary circles that was high praise.

    It's also an example of borrowing not just a word, but a concept, which should gladden the hearts of neo-Whorfians everywhere. . .

  23. Jean-Michel said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 12:24 am

    Bit of trivia: the Japanese English name for Pac-Man was originally "Puck-Man." The U.S. licensor changed it for reasons I think should be obvious, the American English name being closer to the original Japanese form (パックマン Pakkuman). The character's Japanese English name was then changed to match the American version.

  24. dw said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 12:52 am


    "Citizen" is only remotely from Latin. The "Citi-" derives via Old French from Latin civitatem (as does "city"): the "-zen" part seems to be an Anglo-Norman contamination from the ancestor of "denizen". The French word (today "citoyen") has never had a /z/ sound.

  25. Vireya said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 1:10 am

    In the world of handcrafts, the words wabi-sabi, amigurumi and kawaii are used regularly by English speakers.

  26. julie lee said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 2:08 am

    One reason why there are so few Chinese loanwords in English compared to Japanese loanwords may be that China Mainland was closed by the Bamboo Curtain during Mao's time from 1949 to the mid 1970s. During that time Americans had much greater interest in studying Japanese and Japanese culture than Chinese and Chinese culture because trade and cultural relations with China was basically cut off. Then China was poor and backward in the beginning after its opening and it was only gradually that China got stronger economically and more Americans were exposed to Chinese culture and the Chinese language. And so because of the time-lag fewer Chinese words have entered English than Japanese words. .

    Some Chinese words or cultural artifacts have already entered the English language or Western culture through Japanese names. For instance "zen" came from Chinese "chan". "Manga"漫畫 , comics, is "manhua"漫畫, comics, in Chinese. I saw wonderful Chinese comics many years before Japanese manga entered English. China had ramen noodles before the Japanese word "ramen" entered English. The art of massage had a long history in China before the Japanese word "shia tsu" entered English. Japanese Tendai Buddhism came from Chinese Tiantai Buddhism. Kombucha came originally from China (Wikipedia). "Go" (the chess game) is Japanese for Chinese "weiqi" ("chess of encirclement").

    Some Chinese words that have entered popular English vocabulary recently:
    Kungfu (martial arts)
    Wuxia (martial arts)
    Shaolin (boxing)
    Sunzi (or Sun Tzu), author of The Art of War
    Daodejing (philosophical work attributed to Laozi)
    Yi Jing (Book of Changes)
    qigong (an art of breath-control)

  27. Uri said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 3:29 am

    Given how much English has been borrowed into Japanese, it's not surprising that many borrowings in the other direction have been reborrowings. Apart from anime, cosplay and lolicon mentioned above, there's also Pokémon < pocket monsters, Godzilla < gorilla + kujira (whale), karaoke < kara (empty) + orchestra, and Tamagotchi < tamago (egg) + watch (but note that emoji is not a cognate of emoticon).

  28. Uri said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 3:53 am

    It seems to me (as I mentioned before) that both Japanese and Spanish have produced disproportionately many loanwords into (mainly American) English. While the types of borrowings have been quite different – Japanese has mainly given products appealing to the tech-savvy and middle class, while Spanish has given much more everyday slang – I wonder if this may be at least partly due to the simple vowel structure of both languages?

    Also, the names of Chinese technology companies are also beginning to enter common English discourse, even if Chinese products are not yet: Huawei, Baidu, Lenovo and Alibaba all have some currency in the West (as do Taiwanese firms Acer, Asus and HTC).

  29. Stephen said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 6:32 am

    First comment so please forgive (and educate) me if I breach any norms of the group.

    It seems to me that there is difference of type between many of the E > J loanwords compared to many of the J > E loanwords.

    Many of the former (E > J) are broader in use and could be used even if there was no contact with Anglo-sphere (or broader Western) culture, whereas the latter (J > E) are very narrow and apply only to specific items that have themselves been imported from Japanese culture.

    Looking at the first few entries from the list (archive, task force, identity, dumping, tool, out-sourcing, accountability, digital divide, action program, default, accessibility, deposit), I cannot see one that strikes me as specific to British / American / whatever culture.

    Conversely, selecting the first few entries from the Wikipedia list that I knew what they meant (bonsai, haiku, karaoke, manga, noh, origami, tycoon, zaibatsu, kimono, adzuki (aduki in Britain), daikon, dashi, edamame, fugu, hibachi, miso, nashi, nori, ramen, sake, sashimi, satsuma, shiitake), virtually every one is specific to an item / process brought in from Japan.

    If I am right I have no idea what this means however.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 7:41 am


    Excellent observation! I hope that others will engage with it.

  31. Victor Mair said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    on the Zen front: don't forget zazen and koan

    Huawei (constant security and technology theft concerns keep it from experiencing much success outside of China) , Baidu (weak Google clone), Lenovo (purchased lock, stock, and barrel from IBM — no basic innovation here; note this interesting information about its name:, and Alibaba (and the Forty Thieves ['nuf said!]) cannot be compared with Acer, Asus, and HTC, all of which make their own improvements and innovations, from Taiwan.

    I personally can swear by another brand from Taiwan: Tatung. I could write a small book about this amazing company, but will limit myself here to a couple of short paragraphs.

    When my wife and I got married in Seattle in late 1969, one of our most prized possessions was a Tatung rice cooker. It didn't have fancy looks, but it was solid, and completely reliable. We used that rice cooker for 25 years, and would have continued to use it forever, had it not fallen from a counter top and gotten bunged up when we were moving once (that was a crushing blow to me, because I loved that Tatung rice cooker). So we went right out and bought another one: same basic, no frills model, but this one was even better, because, in response to customer concerns (including my own which was sent to the president of the company), they replaced the inner pot, which used to be aluminum, with a nice stainless steel one!). I'm still using my second Tatung rice cooker today, and I don't think I'll ever have to buy another rice cooker for the rest of my life.

    The other Tatung story I have to tell is about a washing machine my mother-in-law bought for us (I had been doing all of the family washing by hand) when I was teaching at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan during 1970-72. That little washing machine worked like a gem, but if there was ever any slight problem, I'd call up Tatung, and right way, a man would come riding out on his bike, even in the hottest weather or pouring rain. I had no idea where he came from, because Tunghai was located in the midst of vast sugar cane fields up on a hillside (no longer — it's all grown up with houses and businesses now). The Tatung repairman had a bag of tools strapped to his bicycle, and they always seemed to suffice to fix whatever ailed our washing machine. And he never accepted a penny for his services.

    I don't know if it's still true, but Tatung used to have a lifetime guarantee on all of its products. Because they were so well made, they seldom required fixing.

    I think that the most successful PRC brand name abroad may be Haier, whose reputation has relied heavily on German technological and managerial expertise. The name itself reveals that:


    Borrowing from the German name of its partner, "Haier" came from the last two syllables of the Chinese transliteration of Liebherr (pronounced "Li-bo-hai-er").



  32. Uri said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Re: Huawei et al (including Tencent, which I missed). In the 1950s Japanese export products also had a reputation for being poor quality. Having a massive loyal home market certainly helps current PRC tech companies (according to Alexa, 6 of the 30 most visited websites are Chinese, 2 are Russian, and the rest American) and I expect they will make the same transition. For example, Huawei recently got press coverage for "the world's thinnest smartphone". Not in the same league as Taiwan or South Korea, but likely to overtake them in time, if only due to China's sheer size.

  33. Theodore said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:51 am

    The fact that so many of the loanwords are commercial Trademarks may tell us one thing: The Japanese have a longer history of producing more respected consumer brands. Certainly, Chinese-manufactured products are shipped into the Anglosphere, but (at least for now) more frequently contract-manufactured under the brand label of an existing manufacturer in the importing country, or under a non-Chinese-sounding brand name.

    The first well-known Chinese electronics contract manufacturer that came to mind is the anglo-sounding Foxconn (who originated as Hon Hai). I don't speak any Chinese myself, but with the help of Wikipedia, copy/paste and Google translate, I see that Foxconn is known at home as "Fùshìkāng (富士康)". Is this a phonetic transcription of the Englishesque trade name? Are other Chinese manufacturers actively "scrubbing" their Chineseness?

    Among the consumer brands mentioned by Uri above, Asus, Acer and Lenovo all have some roots in Classical languages: Acer is Latin for "sharp" (also the genus of maples); Wikipedia says that Asus was a shortening of Pegasus and lenovo is a portmanteau of legend and novo.

    I was also going to make a comment similar to Uri's that both Spanish and Japanese have a phonology that seems fairly straightforward to map into English in most cases. It seems a little harder for Chinese. Also Chinese romanization schemes can confound anglophone readers, especially when that "X" appears.

    To the point of Stephen's comment, I am a member of an American Buddhist organization whose parent org is in Japan. When I first joined about 20 years ago, Japanese terms were quite common in publications and discussions. Now, it seems the org is trying to replace these with English translations. I think the intent is to present less of a barrier to entry for new members, but it also seems we lose a good deal of conciseness and clarity of context in the process. We also gain a lot more syllables, e.g. "oneness of life and environment" vs. "esho funi".

    Incidentally (and somewhat parallel to the "Citizen" case), isn't "Canon" a loan a long-ago loan into Japanese from Chinese "Guānyīn"? (An inside joke with my wife is to refer to our camera as "Avalokiteśvara".)

  34. Theodore said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    I guess I should have reloaded the page to see Victor & Uri's last comments before I submitted mine!

  35. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Regarding "anime" as a "round-tripper", the word seems to have undergone a narrowing of meaning upon its return. As I understand it, the word is used in Japanese to refer to any animation, regardless of its nation of origin, whereas in English it is primarily used to refer to animation produced in Japan.

    Is it possible that something similar happened with "panko" (パン粉)? Not the round-trip part, but rather the narrowing of meaning in its English usage. I'm familiar with the word being used in English to describe a particular Japanese type of bread crumbs, but since the Japanese word means "bread powder" (where "pan", in katakana is said to originate from the Portuguese for "bread", pão, I've been wondering if the term in Japanese could be used more generally to cover other types of bread crumbs as well. In other words, if other types of bread crumbs are used in Japanese cuisine, what term is used?

  36. julie lee said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 10:20 am

    @Victor Mair says:
    "on the Zen front: don't forget zazen and koan"

    I might add that "koan" is the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word "gongan"公案, and borrowed from China.

    @Stephen says:
    "Conversely, selecting the first few entries from the Wikipedia list that I knew what they meant (bonsai, haiku, karaoke, manga, noh, origami, tycoon, zaibatsu, kimono, adzuki (aduki in Britain), daikon, dashi, edamame, fugu, hibachi, miso, nashi, nori, ramen, sake, sashimi, satsuma, shiitake), virtually every one is specific to an item / process brought in from Japan."

    "Bonsai" 盆栽 is the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word "penzai" 盆栽, an activity that was avidly pursued at least as early as the Tang Dynasty. "Tycoon" 大亨 is an English word borrowed from Chinese (Cantonese) "daihen" 大亨 (business magnate, big shot), and then borrowed from English into Japanese. "Origami" is a Japanese word borrowed from the Chinese art of "zhezhi" 摺紙 (folding paper).

    In my last comment I said '"wuxia" (martial arts) '. Wuxia , as in wuxia movies, means "knight errant", or the Chinese equivalent of the knight errant, a person skilled in the martial arts who travels around rescuing people from villains or saving damsels in distress.

  37. Victor Mair said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 10:24 am


    So far as I am aware, Foxconn is a wholly Taiwanese company. I do not know the origin or meaning of the name, but it doesn't sound very Chinese to me.

    You are right that, back in 1933, the name of the forerunner of the Canon camera was indeed borrowed from the name of the Buddhist deity, Kwannon (older pronunciation) or Kannon (the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese Guānyīn, which is a rendering of Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara). However, already by 1935, the company had changed the name to Canon, with the conscious intention of alluding to the various suitable meanings of that term, including "criterion" and "standard", which they strove to apply to their products.

  38. julie lee said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 10:26 am

    Just now I meant to write "zhezhi 折紙", two Chinese characters the Japanese also borrowed in the word "origami".

  39. julie lee said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    When I took some judo years ago I was surprised that many of the Japanese words were from Chinese, like sensei "teacher" for Chinese xiansheng "teacher" , and dojo 道場 “arena",which is the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese daochang 道場。Even the concept of judo 柔道 “the pliable way" is Chinese Daoist--- e.g,. the line from a Chinese poem, "The pliable and weak overcome the hard and strong" 柔弱勝剛強。
    ( I was surprised that the Japanese word "shogun" (lord) is the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word jiangjun將軍, which means "general". )
    Of course all this is well-known to students of Chinese and Japanese.

  40. Victor Mair said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    @ Julie Lee

    There are specific reasons why virtually all of the terminology for Zen studies comes from Japanese into English, rather than from Chinese. The first great teacher of Zen to the West, D. T. Suzuki, came from Japan, and he was a most capable communicator. Around the same time, Ruth Fuller Sasaki was also instrumental in transmitting Zen to the West, and she was solidly based in Japan, where she had assembled a very serious team of researchers on Zen texts. Parenthetically, one of the things that makes studying Zen texts so difficult (aside from their mind-bending, mystifying ideas) is the fact that they have a high proportion of medieval colloquial language, much like the Dunhuang popular narratives that I studied. Japanese scholars were the first modern researchers to make significant headway in understanding the colloquial language of such texts.

    The next generation of Zen teachers, men such as Yanagida Seizan and Iriya Yoshitaka, but there were many others, were extraordinary scholars who trained dozens of capable Western students, including the likes of Burton Watson, Philip Yampolsky, and the celebrated poet, Gary Snyder. Nearly all of the top teachers of Zen in America and Europe were rigorously trained in Japan over a long period of time, so it is not surprising that they are more comfortable with Japanese than with Mandarin.

    Another interesting facet of the issues you raise is that those Chinese teachers who did attract Western students did not always speak Modern Standard Mandarin, but rather Cantonese, Hokkien, or some other Sinitic language.

    To give an example of the complexities of the problem, let us take the word Zen itself. This goes back to Middle Sinitic dʑjen 禅, which is actually an abbreviation of 禅那 (Middle Sinitic dʑjen-na). The latter, in turn, is a transcription of Sanskrit dhyāna, which signifies a meditative state. Now, "zen" sounds a lot more like the Middle Sinitic and Sanskrit words (cf. Pali jhāna, and there may have been other Prakritic languages involved in the transmission of the word from India to China) than does Mandarin chán.

    Mutatis mutandis, the same sorts of considerations also apply to the tea ceremony, ikebana, bonsai, origami, martial arts, and so forth.

  41. Daniel Trambaiolo said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    @julie lee:
    I believe both "bonsai/penzai" 盆栽 and "origami/zhezhi" 摺紙 were probably borrowed from Japanese into Chinese rather than from Chinese into Japanese, but I would be happy to be corrected if I am wrong. (Do we need a post on "Too many Japanese loanwords in Chinese"?)

    "Tycoon" is more interesting – this is from the Japanese taikun 大君, an honorific title for the shogun in the Tokugawa period, used mostly in diplomatic contexts. It first entered English in the mid-nineteenth century and soon became adapted for metaphorical uses ("magnate", "big shot", etc.). The original meaning disappeared after the collapse of the Tokugawa regime in 1868, and these originally metaphorical uses took over as the word's primary meaning.

    The Chinese word daheng 大亨 seems to be a loanword from English "tycoon". (You describe it as having Cantonese origins, while suggests that it originated in Shanghai; either would be consistent with loanword origins. It seems clear enough that earlier uses of 大亨 in the Yijing etc. are semantically distinct and not directly relevant to the modern meaning.) Since the connection between the word "tycoon" and the Tokugawa shogunate was soon forgotten in English, there was no way for Chinese speakers to connect it back to its Japanese and ultimate Chinese origins, and they therefore invented a new set of characters to write it. The word thus made the following rather convoluted round trip:
    C. dajun 大君 — J. taikun 大君 — E. tycoon — C. daheng 大亨.

  42. Daniel Barkalow said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    I'm not so convinced that "Honda" is a Japanese loanword in English; names don't really allow for free word choice by the people using the names, and the people who chose the name were speakers of Japanese. Contrast this with "sushi", which I've seen non-speakers of Japanese apply to items created without any input from a Japanese speaker or organization. Or "kaiju", which I've recently heard a Mexican-born director apply to his American movie in an English interview on a Canadian radio program. If GM said their new product line included some Hondas, it would just be incoherent.

  43. naddy said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    Ironically enough, Victor's post very much illustrates the point that indeed "the age of borrowing is past". Of course English still borrows from Japanese and other languages. In trickles. This is nothing compared to the situation around the 15th century when English speakers were importing French vocabulary wholesale.

    Victor says: Sometimes I feel that virtually ANY English word can, upon occasion, be called upon for use in Japanese. And that feels exactly like the way French was imported into English, a process that is without parallel in today's English.

  44. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    I was intrigued to learn from wikipedia that four U.S. states have towns named "Satsuma," a toponym derived from a region of Kyushu and also, more to the point, a now-largely-archaic AmEng word for a particular kind of "mandarin orange" (the plausible claim is that WW2 made a Chinese rather than Japanese association for the fruit preferable). "Mikan" is the word I used for "mandarin orange" when I lived in Tokyo as a boy, but I can't recall ever encountering it in an AmEng context. That doesn't prove it hasn't been used in AmEng, although I do think I would have been more likely than most to notice and remark upon such a usage.

  45. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

    The towns named Satsuma are all in the citrus-growing latitudes of the U.S. One could think of borrowed toponyms as an especially idiosyncratic subset of loanwords.

  46. Jo Lumley said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    For Leslie and anyone else interested, Polyglot Vegetarian has quite a detailed discussion about the word seitan and other words for seitan the foodstuff here: It seems seitan セイタン (note lack of kanji) was coined by a Japanese-speaker, but outside of Japan, and while I the word is not unknown in Japanese, I suspect it is not so common.

    To restrict my comment to just one other word, I was intrigued by Jim Breen's claim in the main post that "a feminisuto フェミニスト (from "feminist") is usually a male who does things like being polite to women". This is perhaps a question of generation or of political/ideological orientation, but it was entirely new to me. For what it's worth, the use of feminisuto フェミニスト with a meaning roughly analogous to English feminist is far from unusual in my experience (e.g. by activists or academics), so while it's a bit tricky to quantify an intuition like "A usually means B", it maybe does depend on which speakers you think are the "usual" ones.

  47. julie lee said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

    @Victor Mair
    Thanks for explaining why most of the Zen terms in English come from Japanese rather than Chinese, even though Zen Buddhism originated in China. I used modern Mandarin sounds for the Chinese loanwords in Japanese even though I realize that many of the words I mentioned were borrowed from medieval Chinese (e.g., the Tang dynasty) when China was powerful, and the word "zen" is closer to medieval Chinese than to modern Mandarin.

    @Daniel Trambaiolo:
    You're probably right about the word "tycoon" coming from Japanese "taikun"大君 which in turn came from Chinese "tajun" (great ruler, probably pronounced more like "taigun" in Medieval Chinese), and not from modern Cantonese "daai hang" 大亨 (big shot). I still wonder if Cantonese "daai hang" (big shot, business magnate) came from Japanese "taikun".
    Re Japanese "bonsai" 盆栽 (literally "basin planting"). The modern Chinese (Mandarin) word for it is "peng jing" 盆景(literally "basin landscape", with miniature trees, rocks, etc.), though Wikipedia says the word "bonsai" came from an earlier Chinese word "penzai" 盆栽。It seems Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhist monks, among others, brought the art of bonsai in Tang times to Japan (Wikipedia).
    Re origami: it seems origami (folding paper in the likeness of objects) was first mentioned in writings of the Song dynasty in China (Wikipedia).

  48. Ken Brown said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

    Most Brits would be less familiar with many of the words on that list than Americans seem to be. I'd guess we borrow more from Indian languages though.

    And satsuma is in common use for the fruit here. I can't remember ever coming across mikan though.

  49. Chris Waters said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

    It may have to do with hanging out in the wrong circles sometimes, but I get the distinct impression that otaku is also making the jump, although it seems to be somewhat less pejorative in English, where it's often used as self-identification. See, for example, Otakon, an American fan convention whose name derives from Otaku, and Kunicon, another American fan convention which was originally named OtakuCon until the Otakon people complained.

    The recent Japanese coinage "tsundere" also seems to be gaining popularity on the far side of the Pacific—albeit mostly among the sort of people who self-identify as otaku (in the English sense). :)

  50. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    Leaving the trade names aside, I think I know fewer than half the words on this list.

  51. Bob Wright said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:46 pm

    JVC = Japan Victor Company. Originally an outgrowth of Victor, as in RCA Victor.

  52. Nathan Myers said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

    The titular question reminds me of the universal plea for sartorial approval, "Does this make my butt look too big?", and its canonical answer: "Too big for what?"

    So: too many loanwords for what?

  53. Zubon said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    Regarding "anime" as a "round-tripper", the word seems to have undergone a narrowing of meaning upon its return.

    I have been wondering something similar about "sushi" as an English word rather than a Japanese word. Wiktionary reflects the definition that I see in my Midwest US dialect: "raw fish." I do not have survey data, but I presume a large proportion of Americans would still give that as a quick definition of the term. If you showed them a California roll, however, they would probably also identify that as sushi, whether or not they recognized that it contained no raw fish. Hence the second definition, roughly "whatever is served at a sushi restaurant."

    I presume that the western US usage is closer to the Japanese usage.

  54. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    From Frank Chance (a few of these have already been covered by others):

    A few other additions to your list:

    a skosh (meaning a little bit, from sukoshi)

    I think we have imported the wasei eigo term sarariiman as salaryman

    You might also include Godzilla, Mothra, and Gamera

    Datsun does not exist in Japanese–the company was always Nissan there.

    and Victor is or course a revolving-door loan, from American RCA Victor, marketed in Japan as Victor, then exported to the US

    From Kyoto, where I ate lunch at the Muji Cafe, reminding me of another trademark now available in the US: Muji

  55. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    BIG QUESTIONS, the answers to which may seem obvious, but which I think are still worth asking:

    The flood of French words into English began after 1066. Couldn't something like that happen again? How can we rule it out? Or do some people believe in "the end of history"?

    Chinese was inundated with thousands of loans from Sanskrit starting from the early middle ages, then came a large number of Altaic words, and now English is pouring in. Has borrowing ever stopped for Chinese?

    Much of the vocabulary of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese was borrowed from Chinese during the medieval and later imperial periods, and now all three of these languages are receiving lots of English words. Has borrowing ever stopped for them?

    It has been alleged by some in the comments to this post that English has not been borrowing much from other languages in recent decades (at best a mere "dribble"), but it doesn't seem that way to me. When you add up all the words borrowed from Japanese, Korean (let's hear it for kimchee and gangnam style!!!), French, German, Italian, Russian (I'm partial to samizdat and apparatchik!), Turkish, Pashto, Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi (I like bhangra!), and all the other languages on earth, I think it still adds up to a very large number.

    Why is it possible for almost any word in English to be borrowed directly (through katakana) into Japanese? Why didn't borrowing end for the Japanese after so much of their intellectual vocabulary was imported from China during the middle ages (comparable to French coming into English)?

    I personally do not think that there will ever be an end to borrowing. There are an enormous number of factors that influence the rate, number, and sources of loanwords that enter any particular language. These include political, social, military, economic, cultural (with music, fashion, style, literature, art, and other subdivisions), and other factors.

  56. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    @Nathan Myers

    "…too many loanwords for what?"

    That's the point. OR "…too many loanwords for whom?"

  57. julie lee said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    @Victor Mair:

    Re English still borrowing from languages around the world. I remember an interviewer asking the famous and beautiful singer Janet Jackson, sister of Michael Jackson: "Who do you see as your competitor?" Her answer: "I see everyone as my competitor." She was alert and open to all trends and influences in pop and rock. So too in the case of English with languages. And, as Victor Mair has indicated, that openness (as opposed to closedness) is a measure of the vitality of a language (and of its speakers).

    Re Chinese borrowing from English (including AmEng): My mom, who's Chinese and well-educated, told me about ten years ago that she often has trouble nowadays understanding the Chinese in the Chinese newspaper. She pointed an article to me. Though I'm Chinese, English is my first language and Chinese my second, "foreign" language. Yet I found the article very easy to understand. I knew the reason: It was a direct translation from English, with words and even grammar borrowed from English. It was like a foreign language to her. A young professor of sociology in Taiwan told me that English-language social-science articles are translated so fast into Chinese that he and his fellow academics in Taiwan have a hard time keeping up with them, yet they have to, to get tenure. He seemed harried by this endless deluge of translations.

  58. N. Tama said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    I would disagree with the inclusion of konbucha. I think you are confusing that with kombucha (fermented mushroom tea–not from Japan). Konbucha is a non-fermented, slightly salty, broth-like tea made from kelp (konbu in Japanese), and is very, very, very different in all ways from the vinegary kombucha that is now popular in the US. Also, the historical ties of kombucha are much more strongly linked with China, Mongolia, and Russia.

  59. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    Whether English is currently adding loanwords at a dribble v. a torrent compared to some relevant earlier period is essentially a quantitative question which can in principle via the tools of corpus linguistics now be answered (assuming prior agreement on a lot of contestable definitional points). How many it's adding from Japanese compared to Other Language X is likewise a quantitative question. Anecdotes and impressions are not how quantiative questions are answered.

  60. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    The problem I think is that only quite recently (i.e. since my own days studying linguistics, and I am younger than Prof. Mair) has there been any widespread sense that linguistics scholars ought to have the skills necessary to address quantitative questions. I guess Mark Liberman was already doing stuff that required math way back when I was in college, but maybe there's a reason he was off at Bell Labs in those days rather than on a college faculty where undergrads who took linguistics classes didn't want to have to do math.

  61. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

    @Julie Lee
    Could you give us any examples of English grammar borrowed into Chinese?

  62. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    @J. W. Brewer

    Even without doing the math, it's pretty obvious that English is gushing into Japanese, not trickling. See my quotation from Cecilia Segawa Seigle above in the main post. You're welcome to do the math if you think it's necessary and you want to do it.

  63. ChuckRamone said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    I like the etymology of "ponzu." It's not used that often in English, but I think it's fairly well known. It started as the English "punch," as in the drink, was borrowed by the Dutch as "pons," and then by the Japanese who used it to describe a citrus-based sauce they put on seafood. "Punch" itself probably comes ultimately from Greek "pente" because it's said to have consisted of five ingredients.

    As for the amount of Japanese loanwords – I think a lot of it has to do with the West's favorable view of Japan. In my experience, it seems Japanese culture is very appealing to Westerners because it provides a clear window onto East Asian culture that might otherwise be inscrutable or difficult to approach. Also, for the basic geopolitical reasons of being an American ally and an economic heavyweight throughout the second half of the 20th century when the world was learning a lot about East Asia.

  64. julie lee said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    @Neil Dolinger:
    Yes, I should do that. I didn't give examples because I stopped subscribing to the (Chinese) newspaper World Journal some ten years ago, and recently moved to a very "white" area in northern California where I don't see any Chinese newspapers or magazines. I'll try to find a Chinese newspaper and get back to you with some examples.

  65. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    One of the things I find endlessly fascinating about English words making their way into Japanese is the innovative and unexpected ways that these words are sometimes used, including ways that might never occur to an English speaker.

    I used to watch a lot of Japanese cartoons and would occasionally marvel at the name of "giant robot" shows such as "Combattler V" (or rather 超電磁ロボ コン・バトラーV, Chōdenji Robo Combattler V). This name, as the wikipedia informs us "is a portmanteau of Combine, Combat and Battle, and the V is intended both as an abbreviation for "victory" and in reference to the five component machines that form the robot, as well as its five pilots. The V is pronounced as the letter V".

    I'm not sure if any English-speaking person would have ever thought to name something in this way! (the name was probably inspired by Mazinger Z, マジンガーZ, another popular robot show of the era)

    Another example that amused me was the term "anime mook" which seemed to be used for what were once called "photo-novels" in English (or "fumetti", itself an adaptation of the Italian term used for all comics!), made up of still images from a particular show or movie, with "mook" (I assume) derived from "movie" + "book".

  66. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    ChuckRamone: the standard account of "punch" (in the beverage sense) is that it's from the Hindi pāñć (= "five" and cognate to Greek pente). A good example of a loanword like "tycoon" that has been so domesticated as to lose any semantic overtones of Asian origin.

  67. Guy said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

    Wikipedia has a (fairly shallow) overview of "Chinglish" grammar usage:

    Their first example is actually a pretty good example:
    (his income reduction has changed his lifestyle)
    (he, because of income reduction, lifestyle has changed)

    They both make perfect sense (to me at least) but when you compare the two sentences, the first one follows English grammar and feels awkward and the second sounds like normal Chinese.

    (Sorry thats the best I could do, I'm sure a much more intelligent person can explain!!)

  68. Bill W said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

    Another Japanese to English borrowing I haven't seen mentioned so far (though perhaps I missed it) is "bokeh." It's a photographic term referring to the way a lens renders the out-of-focus portions of an image. Some photographers seem to obsess over this.

  69. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

    @Bill W

    That's interesting about "bokeh". Many people mentioned it to me while I was preparing the original post, but since I had never heard it myself, I decided not to include it in my list. For the same reason, I excluded a lot of other words mentioned by others.

  70. Uri said,

    July 20, 2013 @ 3:44 am

    @Stephen's point is very pertinent. Restricting the list of J>E borrowings to ones not clearly connected to Japan results in a far smaller (but still not insignificant) list: something like bokeh, karaoke, tycoon, futon, satsuma, honcho, rickshaw, tsunami, skosh, sudoku and umami.

    By comparison, Raj-era Hindustani left English many more such words: shampoo, thug, pundit, bungalow, loot, cot, jungle, goolies, Blighty, dinghy, toddy, juggernaut and various clothes (bandanna, pajamas, dungarees, shawl, cummerbund, khaki), to name just a few. Many of these were (like karaoke and futon) new items brought from abroad, but the items were so successfully incorporated into the borrowing culture that the link to India was no longer evident.

  71. Jason said,

    July 20, 2013 @ 5:31 am

    How could you guys miss "Mecha"? Another round trip word at that.

  72. Victor Mair said,

    July 20, 2013 @ 5:37 am


    I am as enthusiastic as you about Raj-era borrowings from Hindustani into English. After the American Heritage Dictionary, perhaps the most treasured book in my study is Hobson-Jobson, which is a magnificent collection of words of this type, together with the fascinating stories behind them.

    This is also a good example of how there could be a surge of borrowings into English long after 1066 and from a single vector. Like 1066 and all that, there were specific historical reasons why so many words of South Asian origin entered English at that particular time.

    Oh, and similar considerations hold for why so many words of Persian and Arabic origin entered Hindi-Urdu in the period before that one, namely the Mughal era.

  73. julie lee said,

    July 20, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    @ N. Tama:

    Thanks for pointing out the difference between kombucha and Japanese konbucha. I do make mistakes in etymology. I lived in India as a child. When we moved into a rented bungalow on top of a hill in a town in the Himalayas, we were told the name of the house was "Panorama". Rushing with my sister to the the edge of the lawn, I gazed down into the valley, then raised my eyes to the snowy peaks on the distant horizon and exclaimed: "Pa-no-ra-ma ! What a beautiful Indian word!" I didn't know what "panorama" meant.

  74. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 20, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    One anecdotal impression (that someone could quantitatively test) that might bear on the perceived difference in quantity in recent loanwords of Japanese v. Chinese origin. My impression is that Japanese-restaurant menus in the U.S. typically give the Japanese names of dishes in transliteration (e.g. tonkatsu, yakitori, etc.), perhaps with a parenthetical translation or explanation (e.g. tonkatsu (pork cutlet)), whereas Chinese-restaurant menus are more likely to just translate/paraphrase, with a Chinese name in hanzi next to some generic English like "Pork with Scallions in Black Bean Sauce," rather than any attempted transliteration of the name of origin. (There are some obvious exceptions to this like lo mein or moo shu pork, but they will typically be a minority of the Chinese-restaurant menu.) If this generalization is in fact true, it would be interesting to know why this difference developed historically.

  75. David J. Littleboy said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 3:10 am

    My take on Japanese borrowings being of such relatively large number compared to Chinese is that it perhaps has to do with Japanese being closer to English phonetically. Most Japanese words remain vaguely recognizable.

    Speaking of bokeh, I've heard, in native-speaker spoken Japanese, both bokeh-aji and bokeh-mi (aji is the Japanese pronunciation, mi one of the Chinese pronunciations of the character for taste (or nature) of the subject). I'm pretty sure one or the other is required to talk about the out-of-focus areas of images, since without it, bokeh would tend to default to meaning senility (perhaps not inappropriate, since something ugly is going to happen if one over-obsesses about bokeh), but am not sure if one or the other is preferred.

    I read (and translated for some photographer friends) an article in Japanese on bokeh that had a snarky comment on Westerners doing photography for over 150 years before figuring out the importance of the rendering of the our-of-focus areas (since we only acquired a word to talk about it in the 1990s). Suffice to say, my photographer friends were not amused.

  76. Wentao said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    @J.W. Brewer

    I believe this is partly because Chinese, no matter transcribed in Pinyin or Wade-Giles, is too much harder than Japanese to pronounce for those without previous knowledge of the language.

  77. julie lee said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 9:51 am

    @J.W. Brewer:

    I've noticed that too, that Chinese items on the menu are paraphrased or translated rather than transliterated, like Japanese restaurant items. Perhaps because there are so many Chinese languages or speeches—Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hunanese, Hokkien (Fujian), and so on, among the Chinese owners and waiters, and also, as @Wentao mentions, the uncertainty of pronouncing the romanized spelling for English-speakers.

    I'm always amused by the English word that has entered Cantonese in restaurants—"aw dah" (in Cantonese tones) for the customer's "order".

  78. Colin Fine said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

    For the UK, I would ascribe the difference between Chinese restaurant menus and Japanese (and Thai) to the fact that Chinese restaurants became ubiquitous in an era when we were much less sophisticated in our treatment of foreign words and names. Expecting English people to cope with weird Chinese names would not happen in the sixties and seventies.
    There's an intermediate pattern in the other long-established exotic cuisine : most dishes at Indian restaurants are named with are hybrids like meat doapiaza, or chicken tikka masala.

  79. Matt said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

    Another example that amused me was the term "anime mook" which seemed to be used for what were once called "photo-novels" in English (or "fumetti", itself an adaptation of the Italian term used for all comics!), made up of still images from a particular show or movie, with "mook" (I assume) derived from "movie" + "book".

    Close! It's "magazine" + "book" — big and colorful like a magazine, but not as flimsy or ephemeral. (Also, they usually have both ISBNs like books and magazine codes like magazines.)

    Also, this surprised me too, but the word "mook" was not invented in Japan. Garland Cannon in The Innovative Attraction of English sez:

    The second type consists of a handful of originally English items like homestay and mook, which might have died if the Japanese had not embraced the concept or the object named. … Mook, another international example, was first used as an English blend of magazine and book at the 1971 convention of the Federation Internationale de la Presse Periodique. Like homestay originally, because not used by the general public, mook seemed on the way to oblivion, until the Japanese adopted the concept as mukku in about 1975.

  80. Victor Mair said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

    From an acquaintance who is a practitioner of East Asian medicine:


    Moxa is a Japanese medical term from medical history, and not in common usage until the legalization of acupuncture and recently featured on Dr. Oz.

    As a student of Asian medicine since the late 60’s, I’ve seen knowledge of Asian healing arts go from “What are you talking about?” to an opinion of their effectiveness. Many concepts from Chinese and Japanese healing arts have entered into the language in the last thirty years. The concept of qi or ki, also used in martial arts, has changed the meaning of the English word energy. A growing number of consumers and practitioners of Asian medicine are using terms like shen-spirit and jing-essence.

  81. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    July 21, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

    Thanks for the clarification on "mook" Matt! That explanation makes a lot more sense than mine. Fascinating also to hear that the term didn't originate in Japan but was adopted and maintained there.

    Furthermore, I remembered that the animation photo-novels I was thinking of were actually called "anime comics" (アニメ コミック).

  82. Suburbanbanshee said,

    July 22, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

    Re: anime, I've long seen comments by Japanese people claiming they got the word from French. Don't know the truth of it.

    Re: skosh, that's from WWII. It was a grandpa word until Levi's ad campaign.

    Re: specificity… Well, the classic problem among anime fans is that, if you use too many Japanese terms for normal items, you get accused of being pretentious, ignorant, and overenthusiastic. In other words, you are called a "weeaboo." (Not Japanese-derived, AFAIK. I think it's supposed to sound like some of the derogatory terms for overeager people from historical reenactment groups, or like fake Japanese.) There is a lot of nastiness about this in the fanfic community in written language, but you also hear this when fans chat or get together physically. (And to be fair, most people don't want to hear that you've been driving to the gakuen with your otouto, and on and on, like a search and replacement word processor.)

    OTOH, Japanese terms from English-speaking anime fandom have been absorbed into greater fandom. For example, a lot of guys in anime fandom and out of it call their fictional crushes/favored characters "mai waifu," in a sort of LOLcat way. This gets pretty hilarious when some fans object to any hint of a love interest on the show for, say, the My Little Pony character Twilight Sparkle, and other fans say that these guys are just mad because they regard Twilight as their "waifu."

  83. Andrew Braxon said,

    January 25, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

    NEC (Nippon Electric Company) and JVC (Japan Victor Company) are not loanwords IMHO because those are shortened from English words

RSS feed for comments on this post