And kanji with manga
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

wasei-eigo 和製英語

In Japanese, wasei-eigo 和製英語 is a special type of loan-word. It is, as its kanji literally mean, a Japanese (wa 和) made (sei 製) English (ei 英) word (go 語). A Japanese-made English word. Or, in other words, an abomination English word that was invented in Japan.

Now you might be asking: how is this even possible? Japan doesn't really speak English, do they? They speak Japanese! According to the flags on language switchers, English is an American language, and sometimes a British language. English isn't official of Japan!

That's true. Japan doesn't speak English. But they do speak Engrish. Clearly just using a lot of English-made gairaigo 外来語 wasn't enough for them, so they took the matters into their own hands, seized the means of production, and started fabricating English... in Japan.

After all, why import English words if you can make them domestically?

Gairaigo vs. Wasei-Eigo

Because wasei-eigo are English words made in Japan, and Japan isn't America, the wasei-eigo words, despite sounding like English, aren't actually English, and that means an American English native speaker will have absolutely no idea what the word means since it's actually Japanese, despite looking like English.

This is the main difference between gairaigo and wasei-eigo.

A gairaigo is a loan-word, so an English gairaigo has the same meaning in Japanese as it does in America or Britain. For example, geemu ゲーム is a gairaigo, it comes from the word "game," and therefore means "game."

Meanwhile, a wasei-eigo is Made in Japan™. That means nobody in America or Britain ever heard the word and absolutely wouldn't understand what the word meas. It's something the Japanese came up with. For example: sukinshippu スキンシップ comes from the English "skinship." But... what is skinship!?!?!?! Have you ever heard of skinship? What IS THIS?!??!?!

That's wasei-eigo.

There are other two important things to note.

First, sometimes a wasei-eigo matches an actual English word in spelling but not in meaning. For example: geemu ゲーム comes from "game," terebijon テレビジョン comes from "television," and is often abbreviated terebi テレビ. But then we have terebigeemu テレビゲーム, which you'd think means "TV game," as in a quiz show or something, but actually means a console video-game. A video-game you plug in your TV.

Second, Japanese people who aren't fluent in English generally can't tell if a word is gairaigo or wasei-eigo. This is because an English gairaigo has a modern, slangy feel in it. And a lot of wasei-eigo are just basically slangs. So to a Japanese point of view there's no difference between English-made English slangs, and Japanese-made English slangs, even though for an English speaker the wasei-eigo words could feel a bit weird.

It's even possible to find Japanese blogs teaching English that will explain some Englishy words tsuujinai 通じない, that is, "they won't pass," Americans won't "get it," they won't be "understood."


A special type of wasei-eigo is the wasei-gairaigo 和製外来語, a Japanese-made loan-word. It's special because the term wasei-eigo is generally used toward words that don't exist in English, while wasei-gairaigo is a word that does exist in English, but doesn't mean in English what it means in Japanese.

Of course, it doesn't need to be English, could be any language.

One example: manshon マンション comes from "mansion" in English, but is used to refer to an apartment building. To word that actually means a rich-looking "mansion" in Japanese is goutei 豪邸.

Another: bicchi ビッチ comes from the word "bitch" in English, and is a derogatory used toward women in both languages. However, in English a bitch is someone with a personality you despise. In Japanese, a bitch is a promiscuous woman, a "slut."

A reverse example would be the anime slang waifu. Despite coming from a Japanese word, it was never used in Japanese in the way it's used in English in the anime community.


For reference, some wasei-eigo and what they mean in Japanese:


sukinshippu スキンシップ
sukinshippu suru スキンシップする
To skinship is to make a relationship feel closer and more intimate by touching each other with your "skin," that is, by having more physical contact. E.g.: hugging, head-patting, hand-holding, etc.


sarariiman サラリーマン
A salaryman is an office worker. The stereotype is a man who works in an office, wears suit and tie, commutes by train holding his suitcase, takes a couple of beers with his colleagues after work, and then drops dead tired in the middle of streets half-drunk before arriving home.


sekuhara セクハラ
sekuhara suru セクハラする
To sechara is an abbreviation of to "sexual harassment," which would be if written or said abbreviated in Japanese, something that never happens, hence why it's wasei-eigo, a word this big:
  • sekushuaru harasumento セクシュアル・ハラスメント
    Sexual harassment.


saabisu サービス
saabisu suru サービスする
Sometimes, this is an actual "service" somebody provides in exchange for cash, same as English, but there's also an wasei-eigo meaning: to service is to give a service, and a service is a discount or freebie given to a customer.
  • kore wa saabisu これはサービス
    This is a "service."
    This is a freebie.
  • hyakuen saabisu suru 百円サービスする
    To service 100 yen.
    To give 100 yen as discount.


Yep! You probably weren't expecting this, but this is the same service seen in anime's infamous "fanservice," or fansaabisu ファンサービス!!! It was a Japanese word all this time!

Although, it's not exactly "free" stuff, but basically extra content and activities deliberately done specifically for fans. In manga and anime this is often half-naked scenes, etc. But it can also mean events where celebrities go sign autographs for fans, take photos and stuff like that.


Do you know what the name of the letter H is in English? No? Well, it is:

ecchi エッチ
And that means anything indecent or sexual. It may even refer to the act of sex itself.


kanningu カンニング
kanningu suru カンニングする
To cunning is to copy somebody else's answers on an exam instead of just studying properly and paying attention to class. In other words, to cunning means "to cheat." Note that this is "to cheat" in exams only. It wouldn't mean "to cheat" in a relationship, for example.

High teen

haityiin ハイティーン
No, this isn't a youth problem. A high teen is an older teenager (e.g. 15 and older). High... in age.


baiku バイク
A bike in Japanese is a motorbike. It's never really a "bicycle" bike, that'd be jintesha 自転車, it's pretty much always a motorbike bike.

Word baiku バイク, "motorbike" in Japanese, used in manga Saiki Kusuo no Psi-Nan: tokyousou ni hitori dake baiku de shutsujou suru you na mono, 徒競走に一人だけバイクで出場するようなもの, something like in a foot race only one person participate with a motorbike.

Now, this one is a weird word because it's not exactly a wasei-eigo, but it's not exactly not one. This is because a bike in English is usually a bicycle, but it can be a motorbike. Meanwhile a bike in Japanese is usually a motorbike, but it can be a bicycle.

Since there's this discrepancy in usage, I feel it's noteworthy. (also, Japanese blogs on the English language feel the same: バイクは英語で"bike"じゃない)


biru ビル
This can mean "bill," but it's often an abbreviation of another English word: "building." Yes, I know it's a building, and not a billding, but in Japanese the pronunciation is the same. See:
  • birudingu ビルディング
  • biruboodo ビルボード
    Billboard. (this isn't wasei-eigo, just a gairaigo)


nooto ノート
This doesn't refer to notes, it means "notebook" most of the time!


sofuto ソフト
And this is never about something that's just soft! It means "software!" Only used for computer programs.


raibu ライブ
A "live" is a "live concert." If you say "a live" in English, you'd be wrong on a spelling level (life?), a grammatical level (it's an verb or adjective, not a noun), and a moralistic level (lives are not trivial things), so you'd be so wrong on so many levels.


renji de tin suru レンジでチンする
If you can't possibly imagine what the phrase about means, I can't blame you.

The range part means "microwave." Yes. "Microwave." And yes, it comes from the word "range." This is because "range" (if you didn't know this, because I didn't) is synonymous with "stove" in English. So a range is a stove. Ok.

So a gas range, or gasurenji ガスレンジ is a "gas stove," and a denshi renji 電子レンジ would be an "electric stove," except that in Japanese (hence wasei-eigo), an "electric range" refers to a "microwave," and not an actual stove.

Further more, tin suru チンする, literally "to tin," isn't wasei-eigo, but an onomatopoeia. It means to warm something up in a microwave, because when you do that, the microwave goes *tin*, that is, it chimes, *tin*.


konsento コンセント
Nope, this isn't about giving consent or anything. It means "electric outlet," and comes from the word "concentric plug."

By the way, eyes like (I _ I) in anime are sometimes called konsento me コンセント目, "concentric plug eyes," because they look like the vertical holes of the electric outlet.

New Half

nyuu haafu ニューハーフ
Eh, now this looks like an innocent-looking word. New half. A new half. It's like that movie, a new hope? Or turn a new leaf? I'm sure it means something new, but I have to wonder about this half part. What could it mean?

Maybe you thought you had found your other half, but it didn't really work out well, so you searched for a new half?

Nope. In Japanese, a "new half" is a "transsexual."

Now, if you're asking yourself: "what are they doing to the English language?!" Allow me to elaborate.

Half vs. New Half

Long, long ago, a certain transsexual (bethi ベティ) was being interviewed in a certain program (Southern All Stars), and the interviewer (Kuwata Keisuke 桑田 佳祐), asked which kind of "half" they were. Because they looked like a foreigner, a gaijin, and the wasei-eigo "half" refers to someone who's half-Japanese half-gaijin.

In response, they said they were a man and woman half (half-man, half-woman). And that's how the wasei-eigo word newhalf come to exist. It was made from ANOTHER wasei-eigo! It's like, yo, dawg, I herd you liked wasei-eigo, so I put a wasei-eigo in your wasei-eigo, so you can speak Japanese-made English while you speak Japanese-made English!

More Examples

If you are interested in more examples of wasei-eigo, here's a Japanese website that collects them for reference:

The Opposite

What is loaned must be paid back. So, if there are English words made in Japan, there must be some Japanese words made in England AMERICA.

This would be the opposite of wasei-eigo. Japanese words that are used in English with a meaning different from what they originally meant in Japanese.

The name for such words is, logically, eisei-wago 英製和語, "English-made Japanese-word."

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