For lack of a better title, Lost in Translation

I was talking to a friend today who has not yet completely given up on mastering Japanese. (I, on the other hand, am feeling comfortable enough right now on my language plateau.) She mentioned how hard it is to remember the “loan words” from English, because they often have a slightly different meaning or connotation in their Japanese forms.

Some good examples of this are “hip,” which in Japanese means butt, or “potato,” which means French fries, or “naive,” which in Japanese means innocent and has a positive connotation.

The real craziness starts when Japanese start using these altered word forms when they are speaking English. This, my friends, is the beast known by English speakers in Japan as Engrish.

Oftentimes, it’s something as simple as mistaking an “r” for where an “l” should be. My friend had a good laugh at her local gym when she saw a sign-up sheet for Pirates. For a brief instant she imagined a room of women doing step aerobics decked out in eye patches and peg legs before it occurred to her that it was, instead, for pilates. 残念(that’s disappointing.)

Other times the Japanese version of the English word has a slightly different meaning. When a Japanese person, speaking in English, mentioned to me that someone had a big hip, I envisioned a person with some kind of deformity on one side of their pelvis, not a J.Lo type curvy beauty. Both are rare here, at any rate.

Sometimes “Engrish” just makes life difficult. The re-entry form residents must fill out upon return to Japan talks about “port of embarkation.” I’m not sure that’s even grammatically correct. I mean, I have been known to disembark, but if you accuse me of embarking in a physical sense I feel the need to defend myself.

Other times “Engrish” just makes me sad. The textbooks used to teach children here include grammar points that do not actually exist in the English speaking world. Apparently, that doesn’t matter since it is on The Test. My personal pet peeve is how second year junior high schoolers are taught to say “I have ever been to Mt. Fuji.” Just because I have never been there, and ask you if you ever have, does not automatically equal that you say “I have ever” to answer in the affirmative. Frankly, it confuses the question asker and in the end they STILL aren’t sure if you have been there or not. Ever. It appears that Monbusho, the Ministry of Education, is not bothered by this since year after year they include this pseudo grammar point on the high school entrance exam.

My new, personal favorite “Engrish,” however, is kind of a fuzzy, feel good phrase. Written beside the toilets in the facility where the kids have their English class, a new sign has appeared. I’d like to think it is there just for us.

If you find any troubles in the toilet, please tell the staff.

Roger, that. Will do. If only it was always that easy! ♪( ´▽`)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Rebecca
    Nov 20, 2011 @ 00:15:09

    For even more fun go to


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