In this week’s lesson, we’re going to look at another half-dozen Japanese-English false friends. As we talked about last week, Japanese-English false friends are largely the result of how the Japanese language assimilates foreign words. A word with no native Japanese equivalent is adapted into a form that Japanese speakers can write and pronounce via the Katakana alphabet. These “loanwords,” in turn, can take on different meanings and connotations than the words from which they were borrowed. Because Japanese has many English loanwords, native English speakers need to be especially careful that they don’t fall for Japanese-English false friends.
In Japanese, plastic grocery bags are commonly referred to as ビニール. The loanword comes not from “plastic” but from “vinyl.”
Borrowed from “just,” this Japanese loanword conveys only one of its donor word’s meanings: exactly. (This tea is just the right temperature.) It cannot mean “just” in the sense of “barely” or “only.”
A true false friend, コンセント does not mean “consent.” On the contrary, it means a “socket” or “outlet.” コンセントis a useful reminder of just how drastically a loanword can change during the borrowing process.
Derived from the English word “local,” this loanword does not denote physical proximity. Instead, it refers to the countryside and other rural areas.
In Japanese, the English loanword ピアス (pierce) is used to describe earrings and pierced ears. It is not used as a replacement for the verb “to pierce,” which has several native Japanese variants depending on the context.
Although borrowed from “trainer,” トレーナー actually means “sweatshirt.” The idea here is that a sweatshirt is something you might wear while training. A similar convention exists in UK English, where athletic shoes are called “trainers” instead of sneakers.