Translation Coincidences

This is a thread about interesting coincidences between Japanese and English, things that are convenient for translation. Things like 点 meaning “point” with all of the meanings that implies in English, or ごめん/ごめんなさい and sorry/I’m so sorry having the same syllable patterns and intensity of sentiment.
What are your favorite coincidences?

5 Likes

Interesting thread! I thought about this a lot when certain words on WK come up too like…

馬力 literally meaning horsepower
本流 basically meaning the same thing as mainstream

6 Likes

I know of one between Japanese and Norwegian that doesn’t apply to English and Japanese. In Norwegian, it’s common to use the word “to listen” to mean “to ask”, just like the Japanese word 聞く

7 Likes

Presumably some of these are calques, which removes some of the surprise of the coincidences, but it still is nice for learners.

13 Likes

That’s what I was thinking too. And if that’s true, it’s interesting that it’s not katakana instead!

It looks like horsepower has a katakana form, but I’m guessing that refers to the unit of measured power only vs. 馬力 referring to horse-drawn carriages as well.

(And thanks for the new word, never heard of calque before!)

2 Likes

立派りっぱ and 突破とっぱ sound almost exactly like Australian slang terms with similar meaning. :slightly_smiling_face:

7 Likes

つなみ means tsunami! (haha)

2 Likes

Some could be introduced as calques to China and then borrowed by Japan.

7 Likes

The Star constellation for Aries translates to “sheep sign” in Japanese

4 Likes

Oh yes, like how the Japanese terms for the planets (水星, 金星, etc) map to the classical Western planet associations.
(Also there’s a Sondheim musical about the first contacts between Japan and America, and at one point there’s a fortune teller saying stuff like “wood star”, and “water star”. It’s satisfying to know what he was talking about there.)

5 Likes

2 birds, 1 stone works in both English and Japanese. The origin of both is Chinese but I didn’t think you were excluding those.

8 Likes

Also a calque - the modern constellation names came (via Chinese) from English.

For the most part, anyway - the Pleiades asterism, for example, is すばる in Japanese (directly from Chinese, rather than from English via Chinese), which is why the car company Subaru uses the Pleiades as their logo. (That said, it’s also called プレアデス星団.)

Everything Google’s telling me is that the precise origin of “two birds with one stone” is unclear, but it’s almost certainly English.

2 Likes

The origin is much older than the Chinese saying. It comes from the ancient civilisation of Angrybirds who used 1 bird to kill 2 pigs.

18 Likes

Well, this is more like anti-coincidence, but the spelling やま for mountain sounds exactly as the word for “pit” in my native language. And considering that I live practically on the opposite side of the earth, it would sort of make sense that a mountain for Japanese people would be a pit for me. :sweat_smile:
Well, at least it would have made sense if every mountain had a corresponding pit on the opposite side of the Earth

Also, returning to the subject of coincidences, the interjection え~と sounds pretty much like a word for “this” in my native language, which is sometimes used as an interjection when you are trying to find the right words.

7 Likes

I always found it funny how the japanese word for karate (空手) basically sounds like the english word with a chinese accent. I guess when you have enough words out there theres bound to be a few like that!

4 Likes

I find it interesting that Japanese also uses negatives to politely ask positive things, like English’s “why don’t we do X?” and “wouldn’t it be better to do Y?” Perhaps this is common across more languages, but it seems fitting for two languages that have a lot of politeness baked into them.

4 Likes

鳥肌とりはだ is also ‘piel de gallina’ (lit. chicken skin) in spanish.

And this one I love: in Argentina (I don’t if it applies to other countries) you can say ‘guitarrear’ (which literally translates to something like ‘to play the guitar’, though not exactly) and it basically means ‘to bluff’, and then in japanese you have 三味線しゃみせんく (lit. to play the shamisen) and it has pretty similar, if not the same meaning. The only difference is the instrument :slight_smile:

5 Likes

Did you google it in Japanese? When my coworkers looked it up in their monolingual dictionary, it said it was from a Chinese proverb

1 Like

Wiktionary says the Chinese got it from the Japanese, who got it from the English.

1 Like

I don’t get it. Isn’t that just how loan words work?
You could say the same for sudoku, tsunami, geisha, etc.

4 Likes