This article explains the meanings and usages of a variety of 和製英語 (wasei-eigo), or “Japlish”, i.e., Japanese-made English!
和製英語 × Abbreviation
- ノートパソコン: “laptop”
ノートパソコン is short for “notebook personal computer”, and further abbreviated as “ノートPC”. The term “laptop” is rarely used in Japanese.
- ドンマイ: “That’s OK”, “Next time!”, “bad luck”
It is short for the Japlish phrase “don’t mind”, but it is actually used when you casually cheer up or sympathise with someone who has made a mistake, especially in sports. Note that it’s getting slightly old-fashioned (but still used sometimes) in 2020. Note that since it has a very light tone, you shouldn’t use this term when you really feel sympathetic with someone (in which case, you’d better say “それは残念(ざんねん)だね” meaning “That’s unfortunate”).
A: あー宿題 (しゅくだい) を家(いえ)に忘(わす)れちゃった (Ah, I left my homework at home).
B: ドンマイ (Oh bad luck!)
- マザコン: mummy’s boy, i.e., a man (esp. an adult) who loves his mother way too much
It is short for the Japlish phrase “mother complex”, where complex comes from the psychoanalytic term “Oedipus complex”. It is often used negatively to describe a man who loves and depends on his mother too much, like talking about his mother every single minute. Likewise, ファザコン, i.e. “father complex” describes a woman who loves her father too much; シスコン “sister complex” a man who loves his sister(s) too much; and ブラコン “brother complex” a woman who loves her brother(s) too much. The term “コンプレックス” itself is used as “a sense of inferiority” in Japanese, as in “自分(じぶん)の容姿(ようし)にコンプレックスがある” meaning “I have a complex (a sense of inferiority) about my appearance”.
I found out that my boyfriend was “マザコン” (a man who loves his mother way too much) after we got in a relationship,
Names of Harassment
- セクハラ: sexual harassment
The degree of セクハラ varies greatly, from serious harassments like touching one’s body, to somewhat casual ones like asking whether one has one’s boyfriend/girlfriend.
- パワハラ: power harassment
Harassment by taking advantage of one’s position of authority over victims, such as bullying at work by one’s boss.
- アカハラ: “academic harassment”
Abusing one’s authority in academia, such as too much pressure put by one’s supervisor (e.g., professor).
- アルハラ: “alcohol harassment”
Harassment by forcing someone to drink
More detailed explanations at セクハラ (sekuhara) & アルハラ (aruhara): Names of Harassment in Japanese
- NG: inappropriate, prohibited
“NG” is short for “No Good” and means “inappropriate” or “prohibited”. Although it is often recognised as an antonym of “OK”, it cannot be used to show one’s disagreement, i.e., you cannot say “NG” to mean “I can’t”.
1. 彼女は彼とは共演 (きょうえん) NGだ
She never co-acts with him.
2. デート中NGな行動 (こうどう)
The acts that you shouldn’t do during a date.
- OB, OG: Male/Female alumnus
OB/OG are short for the Japlish phrases “Old Boys/Girls”, and means male/female ex-members of a group. For instance, 部活 (ぶかつ) のOB/OG means “male/female ex-members of one’s club”
英語 × 日本語
- とんかつ: pork cutlet
とんかつ consists of “豚 (とん; “pork”)” + “cutlet”
- 結果オーライ: (things) go well in the end
結果オーライ consists of “結果 (けっか; result)” + “all right”. It means that things have gone well in the end (despite some problems).
Although we got lost, it was “結果オーライ” as we could find a good shop.
- 電子レンジ: microwave oven
電子レンジ consists of “電子 (でんし; electric)” + “range (in the kitchen)”.
- ボキャ貧: have a poor vocabulary
ボキャ貧 is a slang term that consists of “ボキャ”, short for “vocabulary”, and 貧 (ひん) meaning “poor”. See ボキャ貧 (Bokyahin): Japanese Slang Meaning ‘Poor in Vocabulary’ for more details.
- ブラック企業: A company that makes its workers work very long (and underpays them)
ブラック企業 consists of “ブラック (black)” + “企業 (きぎょう; company, corporation)” and describes an evil company where people are forced to work long hours (and usually underpaid). On the other hand, ‘ホワイト企業’ meaning ‘white company’ describes a stress-free company where people can go home at around 5 pm every day.
See deeper explanations at ブラック企業 (black kigyō): The Root of All “Karoshi” in Japan
Here is the list of Japlish words whose definitions are very different from the original ones.
- ムーディー (“moody”): good, romantic vibe
It is often used to describe romantic vibes of places and music, e.g., ムーディーな音楽 (おんがく)・レストラン (romantic music, restaurant)
- ナイーブ (“naive”): sensitive
It is often used to describe people and issue, e.g., ナイーブな人 (sensitive person), ナイーブな問題 (sensitive problem). Unlike English, ナイーブ in Japanese is not necessarily a negative word.
- マンション (“mansion”): apartment
It is nearly equivalent to アパート (apartment), although マンション sounds a bit nicer one. To describe a gorgeous apartment, you can use “億(おく)ション” meaning “an apartment worth more than 1億円 = (0.1B yen ≒ 1M million USD)”.
- センス (“sense”) = talent, good taste in fashion
It is used to describe one’s talents in something, e.g., サッカーのセンスがある (have talents in soccer). It is also used to describe someone fashionable, e.g., 彼はセンスがいい (He has a good taste in fashion).
- アバウト (“about”) = ‘rough(ly)’, ”not too fastidious(ly)
It is used as an adjective or adverb, meaning ‘rough(ly)’ or ”not too fastidious(ly). See more detailed explanations at You Should Think More “About” – Meaning of “About” in Japlish (Japanese English)
- オーバー (over) = overreacting, exaggerating
It is often used to describe people (or their acts) who always exaggerate or overreact to everything, as in “オーバな人” meaning “people who exaggerate or overreact to everything”.
Here is the list of Japlish words that sound very weird or does not make any sense.
- ペーパードライバー (“paper driver”): inexperienced drivers who haven’t driven for a while
It means Inexperienced drivers who haven’t driven for years or never. They are called “paper driver” because their driver’s license is useless and just a paper (or plastic card).
* Example Sentence/Pronunciation at ペーパードライバー: Meaning ‘Paper Driver’ in Japlish (Japanese English)
- サラリーマン (“salary man”): businessman, office worker
It means “businessman” and is a synonym of “会社員 (かいしゃいん)”. Working people are usually recognised as “salary man” except for those who have their own business or freelance jobs.
My father is a “salary man” (office worker).
- ドクターストップ (“doctor stop”): when one is told to stop something by one’s doctor
It describes when someone (esp. athletes) are told not to do something by their doctor because of their health issues. For instance, if a baseball picture seriously injures his/her dominant arm, he/she will have “doctor stop” and end up changing his/her position to an infielder/outfielder.
The boxing match has ended because of “doctor stop” (the doctor tells the referee that a fighter cannot safely continue the match).
- アットホーム (“at home”) = accommodating, friendly
It is often used as a catchline to describe a friendly vibe of a group. When used by a company, however, you may want to take it with a grain of salt, as it’s notorious for a false advertisement used by “ブラック企業 “.
- マイペース (“my pace”): to do something at one’s own pace (without being influenced by others).
It is basically used to describe people who always do things at their own pace, or who go their own way without being influenced by others. When someone is “my pace”, it can be either positive (e.g., “laid-back”, “not easily influenced”) or negative (e.g., “insensitive”, “not care about others”, “weird”).
(e.g.) 彼はマイペースだ = He always does things in his own way/pace.
- マイブーム (“my boom”): Something that you are into lately
It is used to describe what you’ve been into lately. In Japanese, ブーム (“boom”) is generally used to describe hot trends or popular things, like “baby boom” in English.
“My boom” (What I’m into lately) is to write a blog.
和製英語 Many Japanese people believe would be English
The following words are often misused by Japanese people in English, believing that they would be correct English words or phrases.
- テンション (“tension”): a state of excitement
It is usually used as “テンションが低（ひく）い/高（たか）い”, which literally means “one’s tension is low/high” and actually means “quiet, down”/”excited, energetic”. Instead of “テンションが高い”, you can also say ‘ハイテンション (“high tension”)’, but not “ローテンション” for “テンションが低い”. There is also a slang term called “深夜テンション (midnight tension)”, describing the common state of mind that you have when you’re staying up late at night – see 深夜テンション (shinyatenshon): “Midnight High” in Japanese Slang
He’s always excited, energetic, hyper/quite, low-key, calm.
- チャレンジする (“to challenge”): try something challenging, make an effort
It is often used when you try something challenging for the first time. This word and its synonym “（〜に）挑戦(ちょうせん)する” are mostly interchangeable. There is also a related phrase “チャレンジ精神”, which means “a never-give-up, brave mindset”, where 精神 (せいしん) means “mindset”.
(e.g.) 新しいことにチャレンジする (= 挑戦する): try something new
- カンニング (“cunning”) = cheating on one’s exam
It is used as either a noun or verb “カンニングする”.
- クレーム, クレーマー (“claim”, “claimer”): (usually unreasonable) complainant, complainer
It is usually used negatively to describe unreasonable complaints/complainers regarding a product or service of a company.
English WordsPronounced Differently in Japanese
- ドライブスルー: drive-through shops
In Japanese, “th” sound does not exist and therefore it is usually pronounced as “s”. Incidentally, “スルーする” means “ignore something”, and “既読 (きどく)スルー” means “ignore a message after you’ve read it (on messaging apps like LINE and Messanger, where a sender can see whether the receiver has read the message or not)”. Sometimes, 既読スルー(kidoku surū) is abbreviated as “ks”, not “kt” (kidoku through).
- ウイルス: virus
(cf) コロナウイルス: coronavirus
- ビール: beer
- テーマ: theme
(cf) テーマパーク: theme park
- シュール: surreal
- サドンデス: sudden-death round (in sports)
English Words Used More Casually/Commonlyin Japanese
- ニート (NEET): A person who is Not in Education, Employment, or Training
ニート (NEET) is frequently and casually used in Japanese to describe such people negatively.
(e.g.) ニートは黙(だま)ってろ: Shut up, NEET.
- コストパフォーマンス (コスパ): cost performance, value-for-money
コストパフォーマンス (cost performance), often abbreviated as “コスパ”, is more casually used than English to describe the value for money of a product and service.
(e.g.) コストパフォーマンス/コスパがいいレストラン: good value-for-money restaurant
- S、M: “sadist”, “masochist”
In Japanese, the abbreviated terms “S” (for “Sadist”) and “M” (for “Masochist”) are far more casually used than English to describe one’s personality; so don’t be surprised if you’re asked whether you’re “S” or “M” in Japan. In Japanese, “S” describes people who are a bit violent, aggressive, bossy, dominant, and/or hard on others, whereas “M” indicates those who are very hard on oneself (to improve oneself), and/or fond of being teased/controlled by others. These terms, of course, also describe one’s preference in a sexual context. To put an emphasis, the terms “ドS” or “ドM”, meaning “extremely S/M”, are also used.
I believe that people who do weight training are extremely “M”.
- メリット、デメリット: “merit”, “demerit”
In Japanese, メリット (merit) and デメリット (demerit) are often used as “pros/benefits” and “cons/drawbacks”. The kanji words 利点 (りてん) and 欠点 (けってん) are also used interchangeably instead of メリット and デメリット, respectively.
(e.g.) 在宅(ざいたく)ワークのメリット (or 利点) は満員電車(まんいんでんしゃ)に乗(の)らなくていい事(こと)で、デメリット (or 欠点) は家(いえ)で仕事(しごと)に集中(しゅうちゅう)するのが難(むずか)しいという事だ。
The benefit of working from home is that we don’t have to take a crowded train, and its drawback is that it is difficult to concentrate on our work at home.