Japanese borrowings and reborrowings

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Most Americans probably know a few Japanese loanwords, especially those who were alive in the two or three decades after WWII, when so many terms from Japan entered the English language — kamikaze, banzai, bonsai, origami, and so forth — with soldiers returning from the war in the Far East.

In the recent two or three decades, Japanese words, continued to enter English but from different avenues — anime, manga, sudoku, karaoke, etc.

The rate and routes of current borrowings are more dilatory and diverse.

"The unexpected ways in which Japanese words 'make it' into English", Thu-huong Ha, The Japan Times (4/18/24)

On March 26, the Oxford English Dictionary, the historical dictionary widely considered as the definitive record of the English language, added 23 Japanese borrowings to its 500,000 words and phrases. Most were culture-related nouns, especially in food (“tonkotsu,” “onigiri”), along with “kintsugi,” “omotenashi” and “washi tape.”

Danica Salazar, lexicographer and executive editor for world Englishes at the OED, says: 

“Things happen to words as they travel from one language to another, and that's perfectly normal.”

She points to the case of reborrowings, also called boomerang words, which are words that pass from one language to the other, and then back again. The Japanese “anime” is short for “animēshon,” which, of course, came from the English for “animation,” but has since re-entered English with a more specific meaning. The same goes for “cosplay,” or “kosupure,” originally a combination of “costume” and “play” from English, which was added to the OED in 2008.

“NG,” which stands for “no good,” is used liberally in Japan but is, to an American English speaker, “not a thing” as they might say. But emoji sets, having originated in Japan, still retain a number of Japanese-specific concepts. So “NG” has its own emoji, right above “OK” on the iOS keyboard.

These examples are from the interplay of two languages — what about three? “Sukinshippu,” a word made in Japan based on “skin” and “relationship” to mean physical affection (as in, between a parent and child or friends) was later borrowed into Korean (“seukinsip”). It now also includes the meaning of PDA, and can be used by fans when gossiping about celebrities. With the rise of K-pop, “skinship” has now made it into English usage.

I wonder if many people draw a parallel between "skinship" and "kinship".

Here's the list of the 23 Japanese words that made it into the Oxford English Dictionary last month.

  • donburi, n.
  • hibachi, n.
  • isekai, n.
  • kagome, n.
  • karaage, n.
  • katsu, n.
  • katsu curry, n.
  • kintsugi, n.
  • kirigami, n.
  • mangaka, n.
  • okonomiyaki, n.
  • omotenashi, n.
  • onigiri, n.
  • santoku, n.
  • shibori, n.
  • takoyaki, n.
  • tokusatsu, n.
  • tonkatsu, n.
  • tonkatsu sauce, n.
  • tonkotsu, n./1
  • tonkotsu, n./2
  • washi tape, n.
  • yakiniku, n.

How many of them do you know? Hontōni?

Incidentally, I just heard separately of the new borrowing of an English word into Japanese:

raidoshea ライドシェア ("rideshare")

Linda Chance notes:  These days transcriptions follow pronunciation in the source language more than spelling.

Apparently "rideshare" has become a hot word in Japanese these days because of a shortage of taxis in Tokyo.


Selected readings

For the concept of "round-trip word", see:

"Bento" originates from the Southern Song Dynasty slang term 便當 (pinyin: biàndāng), meaning "convenient" or "convenience." When imported to Japan, it was written with the ateji 便道, 辨道, and 辨當. In shinjitai, 辨 當 is written as 弁当.

In the 20th century, the term was imported to modern Mandarin, rendered as 便當 (pinyin: biàndāng), where it retains its older meaning of "convenient" and also refers to bento in mainland China and generic boxed lunches in Taiwan.

[Thanks to June Teufel Dreyer, Linda Chance, and Frank Chance]


  1. Jenny Chu said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 7:35 am

    Hibachi only made it in this month? I am certain I saw it trending in middle America as early as the 1980s.

  2. ktschwarz said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 9:31 am

    Hibachi is not a new entry; it's on the list because it's been updated to distinguish the usage for cooking (which developed within English) from the usage for heating a room. That's described in the OED's blog post, which is also linked in the article above from the phrase "added 23 Japanese borrowings":

    The oldest word in this batch of new additions is not entirely new to the OED. The noun hibachi, whose earliest evidence of use in English dates back to at least 1863, first entered the dictionary in the 1933 supplement to the 1928 first edition, with the same meaning that it has in Japanese: a large earthenware pan or brazier in which charcoal is burnt, especially in order to warm the hands or heat a room. However, a few decades later, when small, portable, charcoal-heated grills from Japan were introduced to the North American market, they were given the name hibachi, thereby giving rise to a different sense of the word in English. Hibachi also came to be used in North America to refer to a hot steel plate which forms the centre of the table in a Japanese restaurant, and the word later also began to be applied to a restaurant featuring such a hot plate, as well as to the Japanese or Japanese-style grilled food served in such a restaurant.

    These new senses, which have been added to the OED as part of this update, developed exclusively within North American English. In Japan, hibachi (火鉢) are still primarily used only for heating and boiling water. …

    If you go to that blog post, you'll find that the 23 words listed there are links to the actual OED entries, which (currently, for these specific words) are fully open to the public, no subscription required, so you can see the etymology and all the citations. They often do that for entries that are linked from their blog posts.

  3. ktschwarz said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 9:51 am

    The difference between the English meaning of hibachi and the Japanese meaning was also mentioned in a comment by krogerfoot at the Language Log post on Icebachi:

    It's an interesting cultural exchange that N. Americans have adopted hibachi for a cooking device, which it emphatically isn't in Japan, while the most common word for a kerosene heater in Japan is ストーブ sutōbu, "stove," which Americans associate with the kitchen.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 10:24 am

    The extended use of "hibachi" to refer to the style of cookery (or the thing on which it is cooked) that also can be and is referred to in American English with the other perfectly-good loanword "teppanyaki" is unfortunate, and will promote unnecessary ambiguity and confusion. If it ain't charcoal-fueled, it ain't a hibachi, say I, eager to maintain bright-line distinctions of the sort that frequently fail to hold back the tides of semantic shift.

  5. ktschwarz said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 10:27 am

    One more thing about hibachi: for this entry, the OED has only added the additional sense, but not yet updated the whole entry. The rest has been left as it was when last updated in 1976, when the etymology of loanwords was often perfunctory, so the etymology says only "Japanese hibachi, hi-hachi, < hi fire + hachi bowl, pot." Actually the etymology of the combining form -bachi is very interesting: it is ultimately from a Sanskrit word for 'cup, bowl', via a word for 'Buddhist monk's begging bowl'. This, too, has been discussed in more detail at Language Log, in the post on Sumerian beer.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 10:29 am

    A good round-trip partial example is "tonkatsu," where "ton" for "pork" is not a recent import (although likely an ancient Sinitic one), but "katsu" is clipped from "katsuretsu," which is a Meiji-ish-era loanword from English (or perhaps some similar European language?) "cutlet."

  7. Bathrobe said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 2:39 pm

    How long, then, before tonteki reaches English? See this article: Tonteki トンテキ – ‘Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories’.

    The ton in tonteki is familiar from tonkatsu. The teki is modelled on bifuteki, which is, of course, from English via French biftek. 'Round-trip words' only just covers it.

  8. Chas Belov said,

    April 20, 2024 @ 3:00 pm

    Here are the ones I recognize:
    donburi, n.
    hibachi, n.
    karaage, n.
    katsu, n.
    katsu curry, n.
    okonomiyaki, n.
    onigiri, n.
    takoyaki, n.
    tonkatsu, n.
    tonkatsu sauce, n.
    yakiniku, n.

    By the way, some public library websites give access to the full OED if you have an account with that library.

  9. Chris Partridge said,

    April 21, 2024 @ 1:59 am

    Katsu curry is another term that has gone back and forth between English and Japanese. The Japanese took the word "curry" not from the original Hindi but from Mrs Beeton's cookbook, where the Japanese Navy got the recipe. "Katsu" is short for "katsuretsu" which is the Japanese transcription of "cutlet". Now you can get ready-made katsu curry in any English supermarket along with an absolutely fabulous new thing, tinned mackerel in katsu sauce.

  10. ktschwarz said,

    April 21, 2024 @ 10:08 am

    Small correction: "curry" originates not from Hindi but from Tamil or another Dravidian language.

    And speaking of round-trip words, "wiki" is not one (as claimed in an uninformed comment at the linked post on "Too many recent Japanese loanwords in English?"). It's from Hawaiian, but Hawaiian did not borrow it from English "quick" — that's the translation, not the etymology. Hawaiian wiki is an inherited Polynesian word, with cognates in other Eastern Polynesian languages. The commenter could've found that out by looking it up in the American Heritage Dictionary.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2024 @ 11:25 am

    Etymological notes on "curry" at:

    "Taiwanese pun on a curry shop sign" (2/7/24)


  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 21, 2024 @ 2:49 pm

    So borrowed (although also locally transmogrified quite a bit post-borrowing) in Japan is the concept of curry that one of the standard names for curry on-or-with rice is カレーライス, karē raisu. Even though pre-Meiji Japanese already had, to put it mildly, sufficient lexical capacity to name and discuss rice w/o needing a loanword from English! I remain fond of the chicken version of karē raisu, which was a staple of the cafeteria at the American School in Japan 50 years ago when I was a young student there. I have found approximations of it in the U.S. in Chinese restaurants but definitely not in Indian restaurants.

  13. Jonathan Lundell said,

    April 24, 2024 @ 12:40 pm

    Karē raisu was likewise a staple at CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) when I attended in the late 50s (hi, JWB!).

    N.G. was familiar (my mother used it) to me growing up in the earlier 50s in Minnesota. I conjecture that it was introduced in Japan by occupation and post-occupation GIs.

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