Tricky Translations #3: False Friends & Japanese Hips

99 Comments

The translation process is rarely straightforward – it’s more like a giant obstacle course filled with cultural gaps, linguistic pitfalls, risky assumptions, and more. It’s a constant learning process that often includes learning things the hard way.

In this third Tricky Translations article, we’ll take a brief look at the concept of “false friends” and then focus on one tricky Japanese word in particular: “hip”.

Warning! This article contains butts. You might not want to read it during work, school, etc.

False Friends

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you’ve probably encountered a “false friend” at some point. Basically, false friends are words that seem similar between two languages, but are actually very different.

Examples

An easy example of a false friend is the Japanese word manshon. This term comes from the English word “mansion”, so if you heard someone say manshon in Japanese, you’d instinctively want to translate it as “mansion”, right?

But you’d be wrong. A manshon in Japanese is actually a type of apartment or condominium building:

And for comparison, here’s what a mansion looks like in English and in Japanese:

As we can see above, the original word “mansion” is sometimes displayed in English on Japanese signs and advertisements. This happens a lot with false friends and just adds more to the confusion when jumping between languages.

Another common false friend in Japanese is the word tenshon, which supposedly comes from the English word “tension”. But unlike the English word, which generally refers to negative things like strain, tenseness, or anxiety, the Japanese word refers to almost the opposite: energy, excitement, peppiness, or a raring-to-go attitude.

These are just a couple common Japanese/English false friends, though. There are many more out there, and I hope to cover some of them in future articles.

Of course, false friends happen in many other languages pairs too – my specialty just happens to be in Japanese. So if you know of any good ones in other languages, share them in the comments!

Impact

Translators can make false friend mistakes due to inexperience, stressful situations, or slipping into “auto-pilot mode”. When it comes to entertainment translation, false friend mistakes tend to lead to minor confusion. But in other fields, false friends can have serious consequences:

In 1980, medical personnel in a Florida emergency room mistakenly translated the Spanish “intoxicado” as the seemingly similar “intoxicated” (i.e., by drugs or alcohol) rather than as “food poisoned.” This error resulted in delays in critical care that left a Cuban-American boy a quadriplegic. It caused anguish not only to the patient and his family and friends, but also to the hospital community. It also cost the hospital system a $17 million lawsuit. (Full article)

In short, false friends are tricky and easy to mishandle in translation, and they can lead to a wide range of unpredictable outcomes.

“Hip” as a False Friend

Similar to the “tension” example above, there’s another Japanese false friend that often gets missed in translation: “hip”.

“Hip” in English

In English, “hip” and “hips” are defined as “a projection of the pelvis and upper thigh bone on each side of the body in human beings and quadrupeds”. Some examples of hips:

Another way to put it: if you were to hit someone with your hip in English, you’d be hitting them with the side of your body.


“Hip” in Japanese

In Japanese, “hip” can mean “hip” the way it’s used in English. But in everyday use, “hip” in Japanese almost always refers to the buttocks:

In other words, if you were to hit someone with your hip in Japan, you’d be hitting them with your butt. In fact, the “Hip Attack” is a common Japanese wrestling move:

Of course, the English “hip” and Japanese “hip” refer to a similar body area, so leaving the word as “hip” in translation probably isn’t a huge deal. At worst, it’d probably lead to minor confusion and funny misunderstandings. Still, accuracy is important in translation, no matter how minor an issue might be.

Left in Translation

The above “hip” examples are mostly for beauty products, but the word regularly appears in Japanese entertainment too. In video games, “hip” usually appears as part of a butt-related attack name, like “Hip Attack” or “Hip Drop”.

Due to the false friend problem, however, this “hip” often gets left as-is:

Hip-related terms appear in a lot of Japanese Nintendo games too. Usually these names get localized into things like “Ground Pound” or “Smash Attack”, but not always:

And there are other times when “hip” isn’t part of an attack name but still gets translated as “hip”:

This false friend problem with the word “hip” is so common in games that fan sites include notes like this:

Throughout the Smash games (Melee to Ultimate), in-game descriptions have had Peach Bomber described as a hip bash. However, Peach is actually striking with her buttocks.

Basically, this is all to show that while the “hip” issue is an easy one to recognize and isn’t a huge deal for fans, it’s also one of the most common false friend problems in Japanese-to-English entertainment translation.

Final Thoughts

I was lucky to learn about this false friend early on in my studies, but it makes sense why it’s such a pesky problem. False friends aren’t heavily covered in school, and different dictionaries handle the word “hip” differently. Even the same dictionary can give very different definitions!

Between the widespread practice of leaving “hip” untranslated, and the formal introduction of the “Hip Attack” name in other fields like wrestling, I’m sure we’ll continue to see Hip Attacks and Hip Drops in all sorts of entertainment.

In a way, the word “hip” is being slowly re-imported back into English. As an example, if you watch Japanese shows or play Japanese games, you’re probably already used to “hip” being used in the “buttocks” sense. Or if you’re into beauty products, you’ve probably run across “hip” items that are clearly butt-related.

In any case, hopefully this was a helpful look at an overlooked translation obstacle, and why sticking too close to source text can backfire during translation. Plus, maybe years from now, when everyone is suddenly trying to “hip up” their butts in English, you’ll already be ahead of the curve.


If you'd like to learn more about false friends, check outthis Wikipedia page. And if you'd like to see more articles similar to this one, start here!

99 Comments
  1. ‘Hip’ in this sense never struck me as odd; I thought it was a euphemism, actually.

    Reply
    1. Same, I thought Nintendo used “hip drop” so they didn’t have to say “butt” and retain their squeaky-clean image.

      Reply
  2. Apparently, マンション comes from a British definition.

    https://www.dictionary.com/browse/mansion

    Reply
    1. Before I wrote this article I looked around at the origin of マンション in Japanese and it’s pretty interesting in its own way: http://gogen-allguide.com/ma/mansion.html I read elsewhere that the term was adopted in the 1960s to make apartment buildings sound a little fancier/spacious.

      Reply
    2. Yeah, you sort of still see these around today, with really old, pre WW2 blocks of flats being called mansions. Normally we would call these flats or tower blocks nowadays unless they are really premium properties then they are marketed as apartments.

      Reply
  3. When you were talking about mansions, I thought you were going to give the Celadon Mansion/Condominiums from Pokémon as an example.

    Reply
    1. That’s one of the more obvious examples, isn’t it? The new lead translator for the remakes noticed the error and corrected it, even though it had been previously translated.

      Reply
    2. Now that I think about it, when I played Crystal as a kid, I never got the impression that those were condos and assumed it was all just one weirdly laid-out household because of that.

      Reply
  4. “Buttocks Tanaka” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    Reply
    1. That one is more hip=cool though. Still, I wonder if that has ever had translation issues.

      Reply
  5. I wonder if a move in Pokémon was a false friend. I heard that, in gen 1, the move “Counter,” which makes the user retaliate against its enemy with twice as much power, was apparently translated to Spanish as, “contador,” which i guess means accountant, ie “one who counts.” In later games, i read it was retranslated as the more appropriate “contraataque,” which looks like it literally means “counterattack.”

    Reply
    1. Come to think of it, certain Pokemon move names can have a completely different connotation in the original Japanese, especially when considering all the oddities surrounding it. Curse in particular has a double meaning in Japanese which would explain the odd ‘typing’ it had for a while and why it works differently when used by Ghost types. A few others also contains specific references to Japanese culture and history, the ‘blade testing’ used by Samurai being one such example. All in all, it’s quite fascinating stuff and Mato definitely should tackle the subject if he hasn’t already.

      Reply
    2. I wouldn’t be surprised; it’s my understanding that a LOT of the early Spanish translations for the moves were a bit… wacky. For example, “Slam” was translated with a very particular word meaning, specifically, “to slam a door,” leading to some very silly mental images.

      Reply
  6. Don’t expect a バイキング to involve longships or bicycles. It may involve raiding though.

    パンツ is a big one. It’s “pants” and CAN mean trousers but nearly always means underwear. Thankfully this one is known to pretty much everyone by now, even by non-speakers. I’m not entirely sure if demands like “パンツパンツ! パンツをちょうだい!” in the ガールズモード series are deliberate jokes, though I’ve seen native speakers laughing at them.

    Reply
    1. Given that British people call underwear “pants”, I wouldn’t call that a false friend.

      Reply
      1. Heidi Mandelin

        That’s not really well known to people in the US, though. Mato told me about how he was talking to his host family about pants (trousers) with パンツ when he was studying in Japan, but they were assuming he was talking about panties and got the wrong impression lol

        Reply
        1. On that same note, a South African once told me how, shortly after he had moved to the US for college, he had someone compliment his pants, leading to him going all “What, my pants are showing?!” for a bit until he remembered that Americans call trousers “pants”.

          I can imagine this happening quite a lot, actually. It’s such a common word.

          Reply
  7. Fun fact: The Italian word for “apartment building” is “palazzo,” so both Japanese and Italian make it sound fancier than it is.

    Reply
    1. On another note, not only does TV-Nihon constantly translate “manshon” as “mansion” — sometimes with an accompanying note acknowledging that it really means “apartment” — but on one occasion they claimed that the word was French:

      http://onoretvn.tumblr.com/post/50370430455/mansion-is-another-one-of-those-terms-that-doesnt
      http://onoretvn.tumblr.com/post/52305609513/okay-well-next-time-just-put-apartment-in-the
      http://onoretvn.tumblr.com/post/54349349011
      http://onoretvn.tumblr.com/post/62201169240/shinji-literally-says-mansion-but-it-is

      The word “mansion” doesn’t exist in French. There is there word “maison,” which means “house,” not “mansion.”

      Reply
      1. Sorry, I meant to say that “maison” doesn’t mean “apartment,” as TV-Nihon seems to believe.

        Reply
  8. But the million dollar question here is why the Japanese use the word mansion to describe a crappy discount apartment. Sometimes it just seems like another case of using a foreign word just because it sounds cool for them to say.

    Reply
    1. In Britain, “mansion” refers to a large apartment complex. I assume the Japanese definition comes from that.

      Reply
  9. Chinese and Japanese have some written examples.

    汽車 (lit. steam carriage) is the main one I can think of off the top of my head. In Japanese, it’s a train. In Chinese, it’s a car (coming from gasoline being 汽油).

    Reply
  10. “fanny” was probably the first false friend i ever encountered, and i thought it would be worth sharing since its exclusively an American vs British English thing. referring to the butt in American English, but being a dirty word for vagina in British English.

    Reply
  11. I kinda feel like the “hip-butt” thing might be being left as-is on purpose, at least in some localizations, as a way of writing around the reference to the butt?

    Also, let’s not forget the best false friends story: Apparently when BIC started selling pens in some Spanish-speaking countries, they tried to translate their slogan, “Won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” But thanks to the false friend embarazar, they managed to translate it into, “Won’t leak in your pocket and get you pregnant.”

    Reply
    1. I’ve found the original ad, and it was Parker Pen.

      Reply
      1. Do you mean you found the supposedly mistranslated Spanish ad? Because I can’t find it anywhere, and I’m beginning to doubt that it exists. And even if it does, I’m not convinced native Spanish speakers found it particularly funny. I suspect this is a myth on the same level as the claim that John F. Kennedy said, “I am a jelly doughnut.”

        Reply
  12. The two biggest false friends I can think of in Spanish to english are the words, “embarazada” and “excitada”. As an English speaker, you’ll recognize that those words are closed to “Embarrassed” and “Excited”, but they actually mean “Pregnant” and “Aroused/Horny” (technically, excitada does mean “excited”, but colloquially, it almost always refers to sexual arousal). The proper words are:

    Embarrassed: Embarazoso, NOT Embarazada (although there’s few different words for this, depending on HOW you’re embarrassed)
    Excited: Emocionante

    Another funky set are the verbs “Asistir” and “Atender”, which mean the opposite of what they look like in English: Asistir means “to attend”, and Atender means “to assist” someone.

    Reply
    1. “Embarazada” isn’t really a false friend. It CAN mean “embarrassed.”

      Reply
      1. I’ve never heard that. Every source I’ve come across says that the word only means “pregnant”, or occasionally “hindered”, while “embarrassed” is “avergonzado”.

        Reply
        1. The dictionary of the Real Academia Española lists that meaning: https://dle.rae.es/?id=EaZb3pT

          It’s also used that way in the Spanish translation of Harry Potter: https://i.imgur.com/XTLrjH2.jpg

          But it doesn’t surprise me that so many people get this wrong. You won’t believe the amount nonsense people spread about language.

          Reply
          1. I’m a Spaniard, and I’m not sure I’d consider “embarazada” a proper way of translating “embarrassed”. No matter what the RAE says, I can assure everyone reading this that 99% of people hearing the word will imediately assume it means “pregnant”. Stuff like the Harry Potter translation might be *technically* not mistakes, but it will cause so much snickering and odd looks one might as well give up and rule out that particular translation.

            Reply
              1. Even some of the native speakers in that discussion admit they’ve never heard it used that way.

                A word choice can be technically correct, yet still be a bad translation.

                Reply
              2. You can’t point to a huge internet argument where a few users agree with me and say that I’m the only one who holds that opinion.

                This taps into a much larger debate regarding what paper should the RAE play and it just devolves into a descriptivism vs. prescriptivism debate. I’m just saying, I am sure there’s no way a popular show or movie could get away with using “embarazado” for embarrassed without causing some odd looks, and if we’re talking “embarazada” it would probably lead to outright confusion regarding the plot. It’s like using the English word “ejaculate” to mean “exclaimed”— sure, the dictionaries will say it’s one of the word’s meanings, but come on.

                Reply
      2. I have never heard “embarazada” used as “embarassed” in Spanish in my life. You might hear in some varieties of Spanish calling something embarassing as “embarazoso”, but that’s it. People will look funny at you if you use “embarazada” like that (especially in masculino). It does not sound natural, at all.

        Reply
    2. I remember when I was learning French, my teacher specifically noted that “assister” and “attendre” are “faux amis” to their apparent English counterparts: “attendre” means “to wait” or “to expect”, while “assister” means “to attend” or “to assist”.

      Reply
      1. My favorite is “demander”, which means “to request”.

        Reply
    3. “Excité” in French carries a similar meaning as with Spanish: you’re often talking about being horny when using it, though there are also many contexts where it really does just mean “excited”. Given the multiple usage, it is also used sarcastically as a double-entendre.

      “Embarrassé” can mean “embarrassed”, but it can also mean “cluttered”, “obstructed”, or “clogged”. So if you were in a traffic jam, you might call it “embarrassment of the traffic”.

      Reply
    4. That sort of reminds me of how in English until quite recently “aroused” was very frequently used to mean “woke up” like from sleep while it currently is used almost exclusively to mean “sexually aroused”.

      Reply
    5. Yeah, I remember in Physics class, we learned about “excited electrons”, which – for some reason – are known in Portuguese as “eletrões excitados”. There were lots of giggles in that classroom.

      Reply
    6. Actually, “asistir” and its derivations can mean both, but depending on which specific word you’re using you lean towards one meaning or the other. The noun (asistencia) and the verb (asistir) can mean one or the other depending on context, with the verb being more commonly used for attending. Asistente (person who assists) is almost always assistant or helper like in English, but in very formal documents can be used to mean people who come to an event.

      Attend, when used for people, is usually reserved for clientele (like, if you’re busy you might tell your coworker to “attend” the person who just walked in. It might mean guiding them around and discussing their options, or just acting as the cashier. Basically anything that could be called customer service). More commonly, it’s for abstract matters and means something like “to solve/take care of a matter” or “to pay attention”. You’d probably get blank stares if you used in the sense of “Hey, I’ll help you with your homework!”, but it’d be fine for “I can’t go to parties all that often, I have to focus on my studies” or “I’m about to say something really important, so you better listen up!”.
      I’d say “focus on” is a pretty good summarization of the meaning; you’re paying attention, but it’s for the sake of doing something, not just idle curiosity. So sometimes the actual thing being described is the “being attentive” part or the “doing things” part, but the word covers both.

      Basically, it’s not quite as straightforward as “assist=atender, attend=asistir”. It’s more like “asistir=attend and assist, attend=neither of those”.

      Embarazada is interesting, in that I’ve been told it originally did mean embarassed, but it started being used as an euphemism for pregnant until it totally overtook the previous meaning of the word, hence why the adjective has nothing to do with pregnancy.

      Reply
  13. As someone who grew up learning Chinese, one term I found interesting when learning Japanese is 我慢. In Japanese (gaman) it means “endurance, patience”, but in Chinese (wǒmàn) it has the more literal meaning of “I’m slow”. From what I understand, the Japanese 我慢 comes from Buddhist terminology, one of the seven māna (types of arrogance). Specifically, 我慢 is “self-arrogance”. How the word went from meaning “self-arrogance” to “endurance, patience” is a mystery to me.

    I think 我慢 can mean “self-arrogance” in a Buddhist context in Chinese, but I assume it doesn’t come up that often in most people’s day-to-day lives.

    Reply
    1. 我慢 does show up in Chinese Buddhist dictionaries, not sure about others. The phrase is only grammatically correct in context since there’s no intensifier, otherwise it should send up red flags that there’s something more to it.

      I think you’re right that it may just be more common in Japanese, though it is interesting how the meaning is more positive.

      Reply
      1. Perhaps they find being slow a virtue to be grateful of?

        Reply
  14. I often translate anime-related articles and interviews, and run into two false friends all the time: “setting” and “scenario.” In English, we take those to mean a physical environment and a situation. But in the context of anime production, they mean “concept” and “script.”

    Another one that pops up occasionally is “last,” which refers to a final scene, or finale.

    You can see my work at my website, ourstarblazers.com

    Reply
    1. I like how both English and Japanese use a foreign word for the last scene. I guess their native words just aren’t cool or exotic enough.

      Reply
    2. The disclaimer at the end of game credits always mention “scenario”, but I’ve never heard it used to refer to a place.

      Reply
    3. “Scenario” shows up in English credits of translated games all the time. Even otherwise good translations seem to miss it.

      Reply
      1. Honestly, I think the focus on “scenario” as a false friend is misplaced. It’s not really a false friend. The nuance is a little different in terms of what native speakers first think of when they hear the word, but it really is the same basic meaning. It’s not wrong to say that the script writer was involved in building the scenario.

        Reply
    4. Eh, in a video/movie context, “scenario” refers to a piece of writing at the outline stage – a “treatment” in Hollywood terms – while 脚本 (kyakuhon) is the full screenplay, and 録音台本 (rokuon daihon) is the recording script used for the ADR session. In visual novels, the term seems to be used to describe scripted story events.

      I think you’re conflating “setting” and 設定 (settei), which *can* mean “concept art,” along with a dozen other things. Lazy/inexperienced translators invariably render it as “setting” and call it a day. It *can* mean that, but only in software contexts – 画面設定 (screen settings), etc. When you see it used like キャラ設定, that’s “character bio” or “character backstory”. (An actor might say something like, “My character’s “settei” is that he’s an orphan,” etc. It clearly can’t mean “setting” there.)

      That’s actually a sort of reverse false friend. 裏話 – “urabanashi”. At first glance, you might think that it means “backstory”. Nope, that’s 設定, as mentioned above. It actually means “behind the scenes gossip”. And don’t even get me started on 世界観, which absolutely is not the poli-sci term “worldview”.

      A better industry example of a false friend would be エピソード – “episode”. It means an incident or event in a story. Or ダビング – “dubbing”. It actually means “audio mixing”.

      I also groan over seeing 99% of translators constantly tripping over ゴール – “goal”. It means “finish line,” not “objective”. Or there’s メッシュ – “mesh”, which are colored hair streaks. And モブ – “mob” – doesn’t make much sense without knowing that it’s the videogame or MMO term. Describing someone as a モブキャラ doesn’t mean that they act like a gangster, it’s that they’re so boring and unimportant that they’re like a piece of “MOB”ile game scenery. Not even an NPC. A background extra.

      (I’ve been in the biz for over 20 years. I have… opinions.)

      Reply
    5. This reminds me of how “heroine” has a very different meaning in Japanese, especially when talking about anime and videogames. It doesn’t mean “female protagonist”, it means “the [usually male] main character’s primary female love-interest”. It’s often used to refer to the dateable girls in dating sims.

      Reply
  15. “Tension” in Japanese is derived from the historical use of “tension” in electrical engineering. English primarily uses “voltage” for that purpose in the modern day, but every once in a while you’ll come across a reference to a “high-tension wire” — you would imagine that it means it’s pulled taut and risks lashing out if it were to break, but in fact it means that it’s electrified.

    I think (but can’t confirm) it’s the phrase “high-tension” that came into Japanese originally, and it was used to mean “energized”, which in an electrical context makes sense and is still (metaphorically) the meaning that is meant in Japanese today. The “high” part I suspect was dropped for brevity since it doesn’t really add any particular meaning the way it’s used in Japan.

    Reply
    1. In the warnings on the back door of some Nintendo arcade games it says “Do not touch the inside of the video monitor in which many parts are supplied with high tension.” So it’s definitely a phrase they used to mean high voltage.

      Reply
    2. FYI, high tension power lines have a specific meaning, at least in the US. It refers to bulk power transmission where megawatts or gigawatts of power are transmitted over 115-765 kilovolt lines.

      Reply
    3. In fact, some of the same games DO use “high tension” (or “super high tension”). In Dragon Quest Heroes, you have a “tension” gauge, and enter “high tension” when it’s full.

      Reply
  16. A common false friend is that “preservative” means condom in most of non-English speaking Europe.

    Reply
  17. One of my favorite false friends is an English/German one. The word “mist” in English means fog, haze, or steam–a cloud of thin water vapor. In German, however, it means either colloquially a big mess, or more specifically, poop. The two are in fact lexically related, but have ended up in pretty different places in two different languages!

    This actually ties back to one of the games mentioned in the article: Mario Party! In the first two games (and possibly the third? I haven’t played it since it came out), Wario was voiced by Thomas Spindler, NoE’s German translator. Whenever something bad happens, Wario’s voice clip says, “So ein Mist!” “Oh, crap” or “what a mess,” basically. However, most English-language players hear this as “D’oh, I missed!”, which, luckily, still makes perfect sense in context.

    Reply
  18. An example of a false friend being correctly localized: in the Japanese version of Kingdom Hearts II, there’s a “Tension” gauge used in The Land of Dragons (Mulan’s world) that drops over time as well as when you take damage. Running out of “tension” results in a Game Over, meant to represent failing your mission (the plot point is Mulan, as Ping, trying to prove herself to the army). In the English version, it’s renamed to be the “Morale” gauge, which properly conveys the idea of the group losing pep and enthusiasm.

    I also know Tales of Symphonia uses an invisible “tension gauge” to put you into Overlimit status, but I can’t for the life of me remember if it was actually called that in-game or if it’s just a fan thing.

    Reply
  19. “Demo” and “Cinema” referring to game cutscenes. It was left as-is in Kirby Canvas Curse and a few other games. Confusingly, “Demo” also gets used for auto-playing attract modes. The limited game versions that include one level to play through to entice new players or game reviewers, what’s commonly called here “demos”, are called there “Sample” versions instead.

    Reply
    1. “Demo” makes sense in this context when you realize that it’s short for “demonstration”; an attract sequence is demonstrating what the game is to onlookers so that they’ll want to play it.

      Reply
  20. “Training” is one I’ve come across frequently in translating. “Howling” is another fun one.

    Reply
    1. Please could you explain?

      Reply
      1. トレーニング is used pretty much specifically for physical exercise.

        ハウリング means audio feedback.

        Reply
        1. Also, ダイエット means exercise, or a physical exercise regimen. It does not refer to food or eating habits at all.

          Zelda Four Swords Adventures made this mistake, where an overweight NPC introduces a ball-catching minigame as “ball diet”.

          Reply
  21. Huh. So that’s why Keijo, an anime about girls hitting each other with their butts, has the subtitle “Hip Whip Girl”.

    Reply
  22. Before I heard about this I always figured that the intention was just the English translators having to censor the word “butt” back in the heavily-censored-Nintendo-games days.

    Reply
  23. An interesting Japanese-Chinese false friend is 社会人. In Japanese it’s “shakaijin” which means “a productive member of society”, i.e. a man (not a woman) with a full time job. In China it’s apparently used ironically to mean someone who makes internet memes all day because they’re unemployed.

    The name of the new Fire Emblem game 風花雪月 (fuukasetsugetsu) has the same issue where it now means “boring unoriginal poetry” in Chinese because they got tired of nature references.

    This is picky, but another one I run into with Japanese music is 世界観 (sekaikan), which kind of means “atmosphere” – like it’s the image a band wants to project by dressing goth/punk etc. But the WWWJDIC definition says “worldview”, so you’ll see it translated as that, and it really doesn’t make sense.

    Reply
    1. Oh huh.
      I’ll fully admit I had no idea about that alternate meaning of 世界観, and have mistranslated it as “worldview” several times in translations of movie/music-related articles and commentary. Gonna make a note of THAT one.

      Reply
    2. 世界観 is my personal shibboleth for translators. If it’s rendered as “worldview,” their lazy ass flunks. You come across it in two contexts: writings about writing, and writings about art and design.

      In a writing context you see it used in describing a show/game/movie’s constructed world. For example, 細かい世界観 – the show’s minutely detailed WORLDBUILDING. This one is pretty damn obvious.

      In an art and design context, it means AESTHETIC. That’s your music example above. It’s sometimes more like “design language” or “look and feel,” depending on the subject. Nine times out of ten, though, it’s “aesthetic”.

      You will never, EVER see it used to mean Weltanschauung, the German political science term that worldview is itself a translation of – “the lens through which one views the world.” EVER.

      Grrr…

      Reply
      1. That is plain incorrect.
        Japanese wikipedia’s article on 世界観 treats it as the Japanese equivalent of Weltanschauung, with a single section at the end devoted to its alternate usage
        https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/世界観
        and the Goo dictionary lists the Weltanschauung meaning as the primary one, with its usage in art criticism context as secondary.
        https://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/123223/meaning/m0u/世界観/

        There’s a reason English dictionaries often list “worldview” as the only meaning, and that’s because it’s not only the primary meaning, it was also the ONLY meaning the word had until the early 2000s or so.

        Reply
        1. I’ve translated many, many, many art books and production interviews, and 世界観 has always conformed to the second definition you list – 2 俗に、文学・音楽などで、その作品がもつ雰囲気や状況設定。「人気漫画の世界観が楽しめるカフェ」. In short, “aesthetic.” In my industry, that *is* the primary meaning, and it’s the proper translation for the original poster’s example.

          Reply
          1. In your industry, sure. In the original poster’s example, definitely. But to say that ‘You will never, EVER see it used to mean Weltanschauung, the German political science term that worldview is itself a translation of – “the lens through which one views the world.” EVER.’ is wrong.

            You probably won’t see it used to mean that in Japanese art books and production interviews, but you probably won’t encounter the word “worldview” very often in English art books and production interviews either, and that hardly means the word worldview doesn’t exist in the English language.

            The reason you’ve never encountered the word in its primary meaning is because you translate very specific things covering a very limited range of subjects, not because the word doesn’t primarily mean that.

            Reply
      2. You’re right that it means “aesthetic”, yeah. The last time I thought about this I was interpreting, and that word kind of feels like you’re not taking them being in character seriously, so I didn’t want to use it. Plus the teens are into using it as an adjective lately.

        Reply
  24. One I see pretty often that hasn’t been mentioned here yet is that the English “yell” when used in Japanese tends to mean more like cheering someone on. I’ve seen a few games and anime where it was just left as “yell”.

    Reply
    1. E.g. The speed-increasing ability from Final Fantasy Tactics. Confusingly, “Cheer Up” is in the same skill set.

      Reply
  25. I remember that in Spanish it’s common for people to say “embarazado” because, well, it looks like it means embarrassed, but it actually means pregnant. It’s such a common mistake that most people will know what they mean regardless, but will probably laugh about it since the resulting sentences can be very silly

    Reply
  26. A funny false friend is “jamon, presunto”. Basically, “presunto” is Portugese for a type of ham, but Spanish for “suspectedly”, so if you buy a packet of ham-flavoured crisps in Spain, it looks like it says “ham, apparently”.

    Reply
  27. Another Japanese–English one I’ve noticed is “(a) romantic” (romanchiku). In Japanese, it means “adventurous” or someone with an adventurous spirit.

    Reply
    1. I don’t think that counts. That’s a legitimate interpretation of the word in English — seeking an idyllic life out in the woods could be considered a romantic notion, for example. If anything, it’s modern ENGLISH speakers who have strayed from the word’s proper meaning by over-focusing on the notion of intimate love.

      Reply
      1. Also the Japanese use gets used for the idea of love, too.

        Reply
      2. A language doesn’t “stray” from a “proper” meaning of a word in it. The word comes to mean something else or to emphasize a certain meaning.

        Reply
        1. Fair enough, as a fellow descriptivist I acknowledge that I chose the wrong adjective; I should have said “traditional.”

          However, as someone who makes use of the language on a frequent basis, I do find myself displeased with the loss of a perfectly serviceable meaning as a side effect of the commercialization of interpersonal romance.

          Reply
  28. I immediately thought of Xenoblade Chronicles with the tension thing and lo and behold, there was an example. I never thought it strange though; I always took it as more tension meaning more focused on the battle and thus better attacks and so forth.

    Reply
  29. Great article, Thanks a lot for sharing such a kind of informative article. these tips will help me so much!!!

    Reply
  30. Isn`t the tension thing a different cultural attitude rather then a different meaning?
    Tension could also be seen as a positive thing in certain situations.

    Reply
  31. One false friend I’ve come across recently is “bodybag”. In English it of course refers to the kind of bag corpses are transported and stored in. In Japanese, ボディバッグ refers to a smallish bag with a single diagonal strap that goes from your shoulder to your waist that can be worn either on your back like a rucksack or on the front of your body.

    Reply
  32. As a custodian, the false friend I hate is “carpeta”. A lot of English (and many Latin American speakers) think that carpeta means carpet but the actual work is “alfombra”. Carpeta means folder.

    Reply
  33. I love this article, it’s so hip!

    Reply
  34. Off the top of my head, a weird loop I’ve noticed when learning Japanese as a native Spanish speaker was that, on one hand, コップ (koppu) sounds a lot like “copa” (cup) in my language, when the meaning would be more accurately mapped to “vaso” (unless we’re talking about a trophy cup, which is indeed called “copa”). Meanwhile グラス (gurasu), which does sound like “vaso”, actually means “copa”. This means I often have to second-guess myself when using these words in conversations.

    I also came across another one was back when I was vising Japan for the first time (with just a basic grasp on the language, so I often ended up using English to get around), and it took me a long while to find where I could get some napkins to wipe my hands with at a fast food venue, despite the clerks’ best efforts. I eventually spotted a tray full of them and pointed at it, and then one of the clerks told me that those were “tissues”.

    I later learned that napkin could also mean “sanitary pad” in Japanese, so I guess that’s the more common use of the word, which would in turn explain why none of the clerks could tell that I was actually asking for a paper napkin in the first place.

    Reply
    1. Also, an egregious example from gaming would be the title of the Persona series in the eyes of a Spanish speaker. While the common English meaning is rooted in Jungian psychology, meaning a façade that hides a person’s real self, that meaning of the word is much more rare in Spanish, where it’s nearly always used to mean a literal, gender-neutral person instead.

      This means that, when taking the Persona name at face value, a Spanish speaker that doesn’t happen to be well-versed in psychology is more likely find the series’ name to be pretty odd, and it might also take them longer to understand and come to terms with the titular persona being manifestations of the main cast’s psyche that they can swap around at will.

      Reply
  35. What about スタイル? I heard it means more often as “body figure”

    Btw just found out about this website, you guys are so cool

    Reply
    1. Yes, スタイル means how your body looks, not your fashion. スタイルいい means you look good without any clothes on.

      Reply
  36. One that we learned early on in German class is that the German word “Gift” actually means “poison”. Supposedly the German and English words are actually etymologically related, the proto-Germanic meaning speculated to be along the lines of a neutral “thing which you give to another person” and the two languages diverging on whether that was in a benevolent or malevolent manner.

    There’s also a bit of a reversal in question words where German “wo” is equivalent to English “where” while German “wer” is equivalent to English “who”.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *