Those tricky loanwords

Hi, good day everyone.

I was going through my reviews today and I bumped into one of the situations that progressively I’m becoming more and more aware of… there’re more than a few loan words which meaning deviates enough from the original meaning of the word to actually end up been a different word altogether.

For the most part I don’t include loan words to my vocab rewiews if I’m able to identify the word from the spelling, but after bumping into words like ナイーブ (naive) and スマート (smart) and realizing that the meaning/use in japanese has nothing to do with how you would use them in english I wanted to know, what other examples have you bumped into?

for reference this are the results from Kenkyuusha on the mentioned words

ナイーブ = innocent; uncomplicated; unpretentious; straightforward.

スマート = smart; stylish; spruce; sassy; (F) chic, slim

Probably if you would just read the first word provided in the definition it woud actually be similar… but both words end up been used more on the lines of the later provided definitions.


I think the examples you give here are both words that are using their second definition in english. Naive and smart have more than one usage/meaning in english


Oh, I see, looking also an english dictionary indeed they start to match a bit more, specially “smart” ( which I had no idea was actually used in that sense in english too, specially not on its own :sweat_smile: ).

I guess I’ve mostly bumped into those situations in japanese where they would produce confusion mostly. But I get they haven’t departed as much from their original meaning as to be totally different words.

In any case any other examples of this confusion-prone loanwords? (I’ve heard strong arguments btw people here about calling someone too “ナイーブ”… that until the translation issue was pointed out :sweat_smile:).

I’ll post again when i think of some good examples, but for an easy one that anyone who’s watched a bit of anime would know: ファイト!
I remember one of my Japanese friends was really shocked when I told him that we don’t actually use “fight!” to mean good luck in english :sweat_smile:
I guess another would be バイク, which means motorcycle and not bike/cycle

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Yeah, these are False Friends, and there are some tricky ones in Japanese. Watch out for “tension” and “hip”


It means the same thing in English, too. Just think of the phrase “biker bar.” That’s not a reference to a bicyclist.


thats true, same with the word motorbike. But it’s something that I’ve noticed other americans get mixed up since here at least, bike primarily refers to a bicycle. so I thought it’d be good to post (cause theres a pretty big difference between saying I rode a bike to school vs rode a motorcycle :joy:)

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Those are good ones!

I would start to question japanese weight distribution if I wasn’t aware of that one, I mean what are the odds of japanese people landing on their hips so often upon falling :man_shrugging::joy:

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Okay, do tell… what do those mean in Japanese?

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hip is butt, easy enough

tension is a little trickier. It’s like the enthusiasm level. so if you’re a high tension person you’re always upbeat and if it’s a high tension classroom, everyone is participating and having a good time.

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I was really confused by people saying what I thought was “home” to refer to a train platform until I realized they were shortening “platform” but with “fo” a more difficult sound, turning it into ホーム.


a couple others that have come up in my daily life here

カニング cunning means to cheat, like in a game or on an exam. That one was REALLY confusing because cunning is a good thing in English!

マンション mansion is an apartment. This one kills me.

Japanese has two words for what we call Stickers. The physical ones you might put on paper or your laptop are シール seals, while the stickers you might send on LINE are スタンプ stamps.

half isn’t exactly a false friend, but it is a word you need to be very careful about. A ハーフ is half (or any part, if you’re visibly different) Japanese, but while this is something to be either neutral or proud of in America, it’s a touchy subject in Japan. Calling someone a Half can be really rude.

and finally a タレント talent is a TV personality!


On a related note: I was super confused when a hotel I stayed at offered a バイキング style breakfast. Turns out they didn’t mean “biking”, but rather a “Viking” buffet, as in “take whatever you like”.


I teach a lesson based on these kinds of words. Most I cover have already been mentioned. Another is リベンジ. In Jp, it means to try again after a failed attempt. On the other hand, チャレンジ is used to mean try something but never as something difficult like a challenging problem. メニュー usually means an individual food or dish or, more oddly, the list of services available at a hair salon. クレーム means a complaint and クレーマー is a person who complains. Last one: ゴージャス means expensive or luxurious rather than simply beautiful.


タレント that usually have no real talent!

“Smart” also reminds me of “style.” When I heard スタイルがいい, I at first assumed the person in question was stylish, not that they had a nice figure.


I think a “mansion” is a condo. Still confusing. But アパート is an apartment.

This is one of my favorite loan words. It’s actually Viking as in “Smorgasbord is too hard to say in Katakana-ized Japanese, what’s another word that’s Norwegian?”

which is just hilarious. It’s like if Americans decided Karaoke was too hard to say, so we just called that Samurai now. Hey you wanna go out to a bar and do some samurai?


Ehm, Americans already did exactly that with Sakamoto Kyū’s song「上を向いて歩こう」(ue wo muite arukô). They went “Nah, too hard. How 'bout sukiyaki?” And now that’s basically how it’s known internationally. :expressionless:


wow! I’d never heard of sukiyaki so I just did a little reading. That is utterly fascinating, and yeah, I guess it’s pretty much the same thing! Though looks like you can blame the UK music exec for changing the name. The US just used the same name later.