Ever heard what sounds like English words in a Japanese conversation, but can’t quite put a finger on what it means?
Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of Japanese English. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them used in daily life, and to a foreigner they’re the linguistic equivalent of a rickroll. It swears it’s never gonna tell a lie and hurt you, but runs around and deserts you.
Here’s a short list of of my favorites:
Hippu (ヒップ, hip)
This still baffles me today – in Japan, hip means butt.
When a Japanese friend first pointed it out, I didn’t believe him. But a quick Google image search for ヒップ (NSFW, natch) confirmed my worst fears – the ladies of Japan have totally been slacking off on squat days at the gym. It also made it pretty clear that hip equals butt. If you ever need additional proof of this, ask a Japanese friend to put their hands on their hips, and watch what happens.
“I like big hips and I cannot lie” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it anymore, but the phrase “Hip hip hurrah!” suddenly became a lot more interesting.
Shower thought: If hip is butt, what do they call a hip hip?
Viking (バイキング, baiking)
To most people, the word conjures up images of burly bearded men with axes, but over here it means unlimited helpings of pizza, pasta, sushi or and whatever else you can find in a buffet spread. It’s a strange choice of word to describe an all-you-can-eat, but the history behind it is actually quite fascinating.
Pantsu (パンツ, pants)
Considering that it’s somewhat of a national obsession here and an anime trope, you probably already know this one. Pronounced “pahn tsu,” pants in Japan refers not to slacks or jeans, but rather, underwear.
One sunny afternoon I declared to my Japanese housemates in shitty Japanese that I’m going shopping for some pantsu, and asked if anyone wanted to join me. To their credit, they all kept straight faces and said yes. They’re either really good friends, or straight up perverts.
Napukin (ナプキン, napkin)
Just trust me on this one – DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ask for a napkin at a restaurant. Because napkins here aren’t used to wipe your mouth, they’re used to suck up menstrual blood. I can’t remember the exact details (my brain is trying to save me from the embarrassment), but I discovered the error of my ways when Shiori and I were eating out one day and I asked her to pass a napkin, to which she promptly laughed her ass off.
Q: Why on sweet mother of earth would you call sanitary pads napkins?
A: Because some people just want to see the world burn.
Torampu (トランプ, trump)
No, not that sentient combover that thinks Mexicans are criminals and rapists – Trump in Japan equals playing cards. I kind of get the logic of this one – it’s based on the word trump cards, and I’ve been in Japan long enough that saying, “Hey guys, lets play trump!” doesn’t sound weird anymore. Which is weird.
Japan tends to do this to you after a while. It slowly hijacks your native English vocabulary and infects it with its linguistic quirks. Before you know it you’ll be saying stuff like, “That potato is so oishii!” without a hint of shame or remorse.
What other Japanese English words do you know? Let us know in the comments!