Oct
31
2009

Katakana Mysteries: 7 lucky loan words

Did they just say what I think they said? … Yes, yes they did.

In the first chapter of Katakana mysteries, I covered a few words whose Japanese meaning has by one path or another become quite different from their English ancestors. This time, I’ve rounded up 7 more words/phrases that are interesting for the opposite reason: their accuracy. You probably wouldn’t have expected these underdogs of English to even become loanwords at all, much less to have survived the Japanese translation gauntlet intact.

1. サウスポー (sausupo- = southpaw)

rockyYou’re probably wondering why I put a shot of Rocky Balboa in the post pic, aren’t you? Well it’s because of this word. Yeah I know the term southpaw came from baseball…

Anyway, just like in English (and perhaps even moreso), this term can describe a person who is left-handed, even outside of a sports context.

2.グッジョブ (gujjobu = good job)

Commonly used in Japanese just the way it is in English, to complement someone on a job well done. The romanization looks strange but this loan word (loan phrase?) actually comes out sounding quite similar to how it would in English. Well, except for the “u” sound at the end, which Japanese can never seem to let go ofu.

3. チーズ (chi-zu = say cheese!)

Have you ever taken a picture together with a Japanese person? They almost invariably use the cue message “hai, chi-zu!” when taking a picture, borrowing the word “cheese” from the original English expression. And yes, this word is used when talking about the edible kind of cheese too in Japanese.

4. カミングアウト (kamingu auto = coming out)

Yes, this word is what you think it is. Coming out, as in… coming out of the closet. And yes it is associated with homosexuality. I’ve never heard it used shortend to just アウト (auto = out) like it says is possible in my dictionary, but Japanese learners should probably be careful.

5. オーライ (o-rai = all right)

Just as in English, you can use this expression to express approval or consent, or to cheer or encourage someone. Again, the pronunciation comes out much better than the romanization of the word leads you to believe. Go watch some Japanese high school students practicing soccer and I guarantee you’ll start to pick up on this phrase really quick.

6. ドンマイ (donmai = don’t mind)

Okay, so maybe this one is a little different than how we’d express ourselves in English. Like o-rai, this phrase is also used commonly in sports. When a teammate makes a mistake, you can say donmai to mean “don’t worry about it” and encourage him/her to keep going.

7. ファイナルアンサー (fainaru ansa- = final answer)

Thanks to the Japanese importation of the Who wants to be a millionaire? quiz show with zero changes to the format, nearly everyone in Japan has become familiar with the phrase “final answer” in the same way that we know it overseas. Sure it’s not the most useful phrase to know, but it’s fun to throw around at parties and other get-togethers.

Japanese "Quiz Millionaire" TV Show

Japanese "Quiz Millionaire" TV Show

Posted under Language & Study by Nihonshock.

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