This article explains the meanings and usages of various 和製英語 (wasei-eigo), or “Japlish”, i.e., Japanese-made English. In particular, I’ve picked Japlish expressions that sound strange or do not make any sense in English!
* I’ve moved some words to a separate post: Confusing English Loan Words Used in Japanese with Different Meanings, where I introduce confusing English loan words in Japanese with different meanings (e.g. ムーディー (“moody”) means “good, romantic vibe” in Japanese). There is also a Japanese Gairaigo and Wasei-Eigo Converter/Generator, which automatically “translates” Japanese words into katakana words, and vice versa (気さくな歌手 ↔ フレンドリーなシンガー).
ペーパードライバー (“paper driver”)
Meaning: car drivers who haven’t driven for a while or never
Those inexperienced drivers are called “paper driver” because their driver’s license is useless and just a paper (or plastic card).
サラリーマン (“salary man”)
Meaning: businessman, office worker
It means “businessman” or “office worker”, and is a synonym of “会社員 (かいしゃいん)” in Japanese. Working people are usually regarded 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”)
Meaning: be told to stop/quit something by one’s doctor
It describes when people (esp. athletes) are told not to do certain activities by their doctor because of their health issues. For instance, when a baseball pitcher seriously injures his/her dominant arm, he/she may have a “doctor stop” and end up quitting baseball or changing his/her position to an infielder/outfielder.
The boxing match has ended because of a “doctor stop” (meaning a doctor tells the referee that the fighter cannot safely continue the match).
アットホーム (“at home”)
Meaning: accommodating, friendly
It is often used as a catchline to describe a friendly vibe of a group or organisation. However, it’s also a notorious term as a dubious line used by ブラック企業 (“black company”), an evil company that makes workers very hard with little salary.
マイペース (“my pace”)
Meaning: to do something at one’s own pace
This word is basically used to describe people who always do their things at their own pace, or who go their own way without being influenced by others very much. It can be either positive (e.g., “laid-back”, “not easily influenced”) or negative (e.g., “insensitive”, “do not care about others”, “weird”).
He always does things in his own way/pace.
マイブーム (“my boom”)
Meaning: something that you are into these days
It is used to describe what you’ve been into these days. In Japanese, ブーム (“boom”) is used to describe hot trends or popular things, as in “baby boom” in English.
“My boom” (What I’m into these days) is to write a blog.
ハイテンション (“high tension”)
Meaning: excited, energetic, hyper, cheerful, in a good mode
In Japanese, テンション (“tension”) means a state of excitement. Therefore, if you are “high tension”, that means you are very excited, high, hyper, and/or in a good mode. On the other hand, if your tension is low (テンションが低い), that means you are quiet, down, calm, and/or in a bad mode.
There is also a slang word called 深夜テンション (shinya tenshon, “midnight tension”), which describes the common state of mind that you have when you’re staying up late at night – see 深夜テンション (shinya tenshon): “Midnight High” in Japanese Slang
He’s always excited, energetic, hyper.
マザコン (mazakon, “mother complex”)
Meaning: mummy’s boy, a man (esp. an adult) who loves his mother way too much
マザコン (mazakon) 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,
ドンマイ (donmai, “Don’t Mind”)
Meaning: “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 your friends who made a mistake, especially in sports. Note that since this word has a very light vibe, you shouldn’t use it when you really feel sympathetic with someone (in which case, it’s better to say “それは残念(ざんねん)だね” meaning “That’s a pity”).
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!)
ノートパソコン (nōto pasokon, “notebook personal computer”)
ノートパソコン is short for “notebook personal computer”, and further abbreviated as “note PC”, which means “laptop” in English. The term “laptop” is rarely used in Japanese.
パワハラ (pawahara, “power harassment”)
Meaning: Harassment by taking advantage of one’s authority
One common example of pawahara is bullying at work by a boss towards his/her subordinate. Similarly, there are also セクハラ (sekuhara, “sexual harassment”); アカハラ (akahara, “academic harassment”): abusing one’s authority in academia; and アルハラ (aruhara, “alcohol harassment”): harassment by forcing someone to drink.
NG (short for “No Good”)
Meaning: inappropriate, unacceptable, prohibited
In Japanese, NG is short for “No Good” and means “inappropriate”, “unacceptable” or “prohibited”. Although it is regarded as an antonym of “OK”, you cannot use it 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
For her, it is unacceptable to co-act with him. (She never co-acts with him.)
2. デート中NGな行動 (こうどう)
Unacceptable behaviour during a date
OB, OG (short for “Old Boys/Girls”)
Meaning: Male/Female alumnus
OB/OG are short for the Japlish phrases “Old Boys/Girls” and mean “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”
English Loan WordsPronounced Differently in Japanese
- ウイルス: virus
- 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)
- 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).
English × Japanese
ステルス (“stealth”) + 値上げ (neage, “price increase”)
Meaning “to covertly reduce the amount of a product (esp. food) while maintaining its price”
That supermarket is criticised for doing “stealth price increase”.
死亡 (shibou, “death”) + フラグ (“flag”)
Meaning: a clichéd event or line in a story which suggests that someone is doomed to death in the near future.
See the post below for more details:
豚 (ton, “pork”) + “cutlet”)
Meaning: pork cutlet
結果 (kekka, “result”) + “all right”
Meaning: go well in the end
Although we got lost, it was “結果オーライ” as we could find a good shop.
電子 (denshi, “electric)” + “range (in the kitchen)”
Meaning: microwave oven
ブラック (“black”) + 企業 (kigyou, “company”)
Meaning: 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 (kigyou; 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 more explanations at ブラック企業 (black kigyō): The Root of All “Karoshi” in Japan