Neha Patil (Editor)

Wasei eigo

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The term wasei-eigo (和製英語, "Japanese-made English", "English words coined in Japan") refers to Japanese language expressions which superficially appear to come from English, but in fact do not. These words were originally borrowed loanwords deriving from English but have become so embedded into the Japanese lexicon that they are refashioned to create a novel meaning diverging from their original intended meaning, as well as compound words and portmanteaus that do not exist in English (even though the individual elements of the word do). An example of wasei-eigo is reberu appu (レベルアップ, 'level up'), which means "rise a level" (the preposition being interpreted in line with Japanese word order as a verb qualifying its preceding object). Some wasei-eigo terms are not recognizable as English words in English-speaking countries, such as sukinshippu (スキンシップ, 'skinship'), which refers to physical contact and appears to have been coined from skin and kinship. In other cases, a word may simply have gained a slightly different meaning; kanningu (カンニング) means not "cunning", but "cheating" (on a test). Some wasei-eigo are subsequently borrowed from Japanese into other languages, including English itself; a notable example is kikkubokushingu (キックボクシング), which became English kickboxing.


Wasei-eigo compared to other Japanese word classes

Wasei-eigo is distinct from Engrish, as it consists of words used in Japanese conversation, not an attempt at speaking English. These include acronyms and initialisms particular to Japan (see list of Japanese Latin alphabetic abbreviations). Wasei-eigo can be compared to wasei kango (和製漢語, Japanese-created kango (Chinese compounds)), which are Japanese pseudo-Sinicisms (Japanese words created from Chinese roots) and are also extremely common.

History and process

There was a large influx of English loanwords introduced to Japan during the Meiji period, which was an important factor in Japan’s modernization. Because they were so quickly accepted into Japanese society there is not a thorough understanding of the actual meaning of the word, leading to misinterpretations and deviations from their original meaning.

Since English loanwords are adopted into Japan intentionally (as opposed to diffusing "naturally" through language contact, etc.), the meaning often deviates from the original. When these loanwords become so deeply embedded in the Japanese lexicon, it leads to experimentation and re-fashioning of the words' meaning, thus resulting in wasei-eigo. For example, manshon phonetically came from the English word "mansion" but instead has the meaning of "condominium".

In the media

Many scholars also agree that the main proponent behind these wasei-eigo terms is mainly the media to create interest and novelty in their advertising and products. The use of English words is also an attempt by advertisers to portray a modern, cosmopolitan image – one that is often associated with Western culture.

Social connotations and main users of wasei-eigo

Though there is disagreement about the assumption that the majority creators of wasei-eigo are the aforementioned advertisers, the audience that predominantly uses wasei-eigo is youth and women. Many Japanese consider English loanword usage to be more casual and as being used mainly among peers of the same status.

English loanwords are usually written in katakana, making it apparent that they are words non-native to Japan. This constant reminder that these are loanwords, and not natively Japanese, links the meanings of the words with the idea of "foreignness". Because of this, wasei-eigo (and some English loanwords) is often used as a method for speaking about taboo and controversial topics in a safe and neutral way. Like the aforementioned examples above, because these words are not native Japanese words and are marked as foreign in their writing, it can be associated with concepts and subjects that are non-normal or unique to Japan.

Confusion with gairaigo

Wasei-eigo is often confused with gairaigo, which is simply loanwords or "words from abroad". The main contributor to this confusion is that many gairaigo words derived from English are mistaken for wasei-eigo due to the phonological and morphological transformation they undergo to suit Japanese phonology and syllabary. These transformations often result in truncated (or "backclipped") words and words with extra vowels inserted to accommodate to the Japanese mora syllabic structure. Wasei-eigo, on the other hand, is the re-working of and experimentation with these words that result in an entirely novel meaning as compared to the original intended meaning.


Wasei-eigo Wikipedia