Borrowed phrases or words that don't carry the original meaning when used in Japan

Hey all!

This may be my first time posting a question on my own, so forgive me but I came across something when I was chatting with the Master at a local cafe near my home.

We were talking about the usual katakana words that are borrowed from English (or other languages) and he mentioned “lip service”.

Now, when I hear “lip service”, I think of a hypocritical person or one who says something but acts a different way. But I’m not really sure if that is the real meaning or not because it isn’t something I generally hear often.

But…he said it is nothing like that in Japanese, and that they use it frequently in the service industry, which seems weird to me. I explained how we use it in English, but he clearly expressed it was not the same. I realize honne/tatemae culture may hide the fact that some people don’t always agree but may show support/acknowledgement in that way, I just wonder how else “lip service” can be described. It seems like he was trying to emphasize just a friendliness in speaking of some sort, but he gave up after a short while…haha.

So what I am wondering is if there are any others who have come across interesting phrases or words that they have discovered while trying to decode loan words or other situations.


Here are the two that came to mind right away

“cunning” - cheating

“smart” - stylish (which is technically also true in English, but it doesn’t ever mean like intelligent)


There are a lot of words like that. The ones that come to mind to me first are “challenge” because it has a meaning/grammar closer to “try” and “American dog” (corn dog) because the first time I tried to order one in a conbini, the poor worker had no clue what a コーンドッグ was lol.

There are a lot of words that might fit your bill on this Wikipedia list too :slight_smile:


The dictionary definition of リップサービス is clearly related to the English meaning in its origin.


It’s more like “flattery without much meaning behind it.”

So they homed in on one aspect of it and went with that. In English, there’s the sense of “saying something someone wants to hear” as well, but it’s not as flattery-focused.

As far as 和製英語 and loanwords go, that’s actually not too egregious. As mentioned above, there are examples where they took an aspect of the English and bent it somehow, and then there are just flagrant inventions that no English speaker would even be able to comprehend.

EDIT: And for what it’s worth, it happens in the opposite direction too. English “kombucha” and Japanese 昆布茶 basically share nothing in common except that they are drinks.


Yeah, I’m not looking for a list of those kind of words, but I get what you mean. When I first got here, people were always asking me if I liked American dogs and I was like…“wha…?” and then was shown one and slightly disappointed haha…

Thanks for the information!

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Yeah, I just mentioned it to a coworker and she said, for example: Someone is not cute, but you want to encourage them, so you say “You are cute!” even though you don’t mean it, or when talking with someone else, you encourage them to do something, “Let’s get lunch together!”, but don’t actually ever put it in your schedule to do so. I feel this relates closely to the English meaning though.


Yeah, these are the kind of things I mean. I hear these two a lot, especially watching TV and talking with my students :slight_smile:

American Dogs and “corn bread” :rofl:
I saw a package of cornbread at a lawson and was like “sweet I like corn bread” and then it was just bread with corn kernels :sob:


oh, and サービス, too! When I’m at a store and someone gives me something and says like これはサービスです。and I wanna be like, “yeah, this sure is great service but how much does it cost?” :rofl:


I was also mislead by this! Cornmeal is so hard to come by near me, so I can never make it myself either. Been craving it for forever, there is a bran muffin that tastes similar to it at Lawson now though so you should try it! There are two in the pack and they look like muffin tops. :slight_smile:

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bran muffinnnnsssss. If theyve made it out to my little inaka town Im definitely buying them!

One thing that confused me at first was テンション and related expressions. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with “tension”, but more to do with an energetic/positive mood.


The one that makes me frown the most is スタイル style. It refers to body shape, so “she has a good style” = she has a nice body. It weirds me out because style is a choice in English lol


ファイト is similar in that they only use it in terms of trying hard, not an actual fight.


In Okinawa many US Marines call taxi service honcho (derived from 班長 potentially). They have no idea that the real word is something they already know タクシー lol


マンション comes to mind which is basically the word for an apartment building if im not mistaken and not a large home


Well, you wouldn’t call the driver タクシー >_>

This one is adapted from British English, I believe. “Mansion” can mean a luxurious apartment apparently. (At least Wiktionary lists that as British English for mansion)


Yeah from my understanding マンション is a western style apartment building (many floors), アパート is Japanese style (usually wooden and only 2 stories or so).


They use the word honcho to refer to taxis in general. Not necessarily the driver. Like “can you call me a honcho?”


Ah, okay… You had said that’s what they call the driver, so I assumed you meant as they were talking to them.