You mean… that’s not English?

In Japanese, there’s a class of words that are collectively called 和製英語 (wasei-eigo). The phrase literally means “Japanese-made English (words)”.

Basically, wasei-eigo are words/expressions coined in Japanese using English words and/or morphemes. So, at first glance, one might think these words are wholesale loanwords  from English (like アニメーション, animation; and ファーストフード, fast food), but they’re not.

Compounding

One way wasei-eigo are formed is through compounding. Two or more English words are joined to coin a new word/expression.

One example that comes to mind is “light novel” (ライトノベル, raito noberu), “a style of Japanese novel primarily targeting middle- and high-school students.” Because of my exposure to Japanese culture, I’ve read and heard this expression so much that I thought it was originally an English expression!

Another cool one that gamers might know is “level-up” (レベルアップ, reberu appu).

Same word, different meaning

I learnt about this one in school, and I thought it was interesting! The word カンニング (kanningu), though it comes from the English word ‘cunning’, actually means ‘to cheat‘!

Affixing

English has so many affixes (suffixes and prefixes) it’s kinda hard to keep track. So, it makes sense that エネルギッシュ (enerugisshu, ‘energish‘ came about. It means ‘energetic’. From what I can see, the Japanese rendering of “energy” エネルギー (enerugi; hard ‘g’ sound) had the suffix “-ish” attached to it.

Portmanteau 

This one one I didn’t know. スキンシップ (sukinshippu) is a funny one meaning “close physical contact”. It seems to have come from “skin” and “kinship”, but I suppose it could be an example of affixing: “skin” with the suffix “-ship” as in “relationship“.


It was cool to learn the actual linguistic name for this phenomenon, and to realise just how many of them I actually knew already!

 

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