It’s always interesting to me to hear how our words in English have entered the Japanese language. But while some retain the same meaning, there are quite a few that have been twisted so that the new meaning is similar enough to be understood when explained, but also different enough to be misunderstood. They are called Wasei Eigo (和製英語), or Japanese-made English. Feel free to add some warped loanwords that you know from any language in the comments!
• カミングアウト: Coming Out
Coming out isn’t always used the same way we use it – that is to say, letting people know your sexual orientation. In Japanese it simply means to make a confession. There are a few times I’ve been shocked to hear Yuuki say he was ‘coming out’ only to have him say he ate all the chocolate or something.
• ドメスティック: Domestic
When I asked Yuuki for ideas, he said said when Japanese people hear the word ‘domestic,’ it gives them an image of a man hitting his wife. The words ‘domestic violence’ have become a common phrase in Japan, often even shortened to ‘DV,’ so that now just hearing the word ‘domestic’ is associated with domestic violence for many Japanese people.
• マンション: Mansion
This simply means an apartment building. I imagine there’s been a few misunderstandings in the past where an English-speaking person was surprised to hear that their Japanese friend lives in a mansion.
• バイキング: Viking
This means buffet! I guess because…Vikings were hungry? The truth is only slightly different than my guess.
• ベーコン: Bacon
This one is debatable. In fact, I’ve gotten into debates about it before. But people in Japan seem to call a lot of things bacon that I would call ham. Now if you order a burger with bacon, you will get the same thing as you would get in America. But with some things, especially pasta, you get something like this. Maybe you would still call that bacon, but personally I wouldn’t.
• コンセント: Consent
If you don’t already know, can you guess what this might mean? Well, you’re wrong. How do I know you were wrong? Because it means outlet, and you’d have to be a special kind of crazy to have thought of that without prior knowledge. Yes, as in those things you use to charge up your pretty laptop, and nothing to do with giving permission. Apparently it comes from “concentric plug.”
• ゴージャス: Gorgeous
This one sort of means the same thing as its English counterpart, but it has a bit of a different nuance. It has an added connotation of being wealthy and blinged out.
• フライドポテト: Fried potato
This is what we would call French fries (or freedom fries for the ‘true’ American).
• テレビゲーム: TV game
Video game. Makes sense, but can take a little bit of getting used to. However, I think most Japanese people will understand if you say ビデオゲーム instead.
• ドンマイ: Don’t mind
This would be the Japanese equivalent of “never mind,” but it can also be used to mean “don’t worry about it.” A good example of how the loan words/phrases can be easily understood, but not quite the same as their original counterparts.
• サラリーマン: Salaryman
This one is probably the most well-known of all of them, and means, as you might have guessed, “businessman.”
• OL: Office lady
In Japanese they often refer to businesswomen by the acronym “OL.” This always kind of bothered me, and comparing it with salaryman above I think understand why now. To me this imbalance implies that the businessman is there to earn a salary, while the woman is there moreso to decorate the office. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and maybe the sexist kanji has gotten to me, but that’s how I feel when I hear “OL.”
• スキンシップ: Skinship
Skin + Friendship/Relationship = Skinship. I don’t really know of a good term in English that quite has the same nuance as this, but I think you can understand from the equation that it’s physical contact as an aspect of your relationship with someone.
• フリーサイズ: Free size
One size fits all!
• ジェットコースター: Jet coaster
Not too far off the mark here either. This one means Roller coaster.
While I’ve studied a few other languages, I haven’t studied any of them in enough depth to know any loan words that have changed meanings. So if you’ve studied a language other than Japanese, or thought of some in Japanese that aren’t on this list, please comment below! I think it’s really interesting to see how the meanings are changed or altered when they enter a different language.