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Intro to Wasei-Eigo (“coined” English Loan-words)

Intro to Wasei-Eigo (“coined” English Loan-words)

The term wasei-eigo (和製英語) is used to refer to English words that have been coined into the Japanese language. Its literal translation is something along the lines of “Japanese-made English”. Wasei-eigo is often confused with Engrish, which is a slang term for the complete misuse of the English language by East Asian non-native speakers (which itself can be quite the adorable spectacle to behold), and gairaigo (外来語), which refers to modern and more general-usage loan words from languages other than Chinese embedded into the Japanese language; but the distinction and rather trendy nuance of wasei-eigo is that it is the actual experimentation of these loan words that results in an entirely divergent meaning.

But it also has a negative impact on the language exchange of English and Japanese, on both ends of the relationship. Any informed linguist will acknowledge the infallibility of language changing, developing, and evolving; but as wasei-eigo specifically exists concurrently with the already established forms of these various English loan words, Japanese speakers learning English may forthrightly mistake them for true English words and heedlessly use them with the wasei-eigo denotation and connotation in any given context. On the receiving end, when English speakers hear these terms, they will naturally presume them as English words that have been accepted into Japanese lexicon with no changes in form. It’s easy to imagine the confusion that may arise when these two instances of miscommunication converge

While at times much more informal than standard speech practice, wasei-eigo can have its merit as a poignant and fetching descriptor. In order to create an appeal in their advertising and products, the media often utilizes the convergence of English and Japanese to associate Western and Eastern culture and to portray a more modern and cosmopolitan image for the represented entity. Similar to the common usage of onomatopoeia in Japan (also usually lettered in kana characters) to convey the feelings alongside a certain situation, English loan words are considered to be more casual, friendly and trendy among the youth.

Example(s):

after service (アフターサービス) – customer service
all back (オールバック) – swept back hair
baby car (ベビーカー) – stroller
change lever (チェンジレバー) – gear stick, gearshift
claim (クレーム) – a complaint
coin laundry (コインランドリー) – laundromat
come on (カモン/カモーン) – an invitation to join an event
consent (コンセント) – electric socket
crystal (クリスタル) – shiny, clear
fight (ファイト) – “Do your best!”, “I’ll do my best!”
free size (フリーサイズ) – one size fits all
g-pan (ジーパン) – jeans
golden hour (ゴールデンアワー) – prime time television
high miss (ハイミス) – spinster, unmarried woman who is past the usual age for marrying and is considered unlikely to marry
high touch (ハイタッチ) – high five
in key (インキー) – being locked out of a car with the keys inside
list up (リストアップ) – make a selection
mansion (マンション) – modern apartment/condominium block
magic tape (マジックテープ) – Velcro
minus driver (マイナスドライバー) – flat-headed screwdriver
my pace (マイペース) – doing things at one’s own pace
new half (ニューハーフ) – person in drag, transsexual
pinch (ピンチ) – predicament, potentially disasterous situation
number display (ナンバーディスプレイ) – caller I.D.
romance gray (ロマンスグレー) – silver-grey hair
salaryman (サラリマン) – male office worker
sign (サイン) – signature, autograph
silver seat (シルバーシート) – seat on public transport reserved for the elderly
skinship (スキンシップ) – an intimate relationship, bonding through physical contact (hugging, kissing, parents hand-washing children etc.)
soft cream (ソフトクリーム) – soft-serve ice cream
super (スーパー) – supermarket
table speech (テーブルスピーチ) – a speech made at a party
talent (タレント) – T.V. personality
trump (トランプ) – playing cards
viking (バイキング) – all-you-can-eat buffet