Funny English Language : English Words Derived From The Japanese

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The Sun Never Sets On The English Language

There are many words that the English language has borrowed from other languages. This was due to the British presence during the colonization days. The Brits used to boast that the sun never set on the British Empire. Although this British arrogance has somewhat dissipated, the sun still never sets on the English language, and looks like it will stay that way. Hip hip hooray! For those not familiar with this “hip hip hooray”, it is a traditional British expression of “cheering”. From their long periods of presence in foreign lands, the British have borrowed many words from the “damned” natives. This article will look at the English words derived from the Japanese.

Japanese-style futons laid out for sleeping
Japanese-style futons laid out for sleeping | Source
Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa, who flew his aircraft into the USS Bunker Hill during a Kamikaze mission on 11 May 1945.
Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa, who flew his aircraft into the USS Bunker Hill during a Kamikaze mission on 11 May 1945. | Source

Karaoke, Kamikaze And Sayonara

Let’s start learning Japanese.

1. Karaoke : (noun)

“Karaoke” literally means “empty orchestra”. But everyone knows the accepted meaning of “sing along”.

2. Futon : (noun)

“Futon” means “bed quilt”. In Japanese it is supposed to mean "place to rest". In Japan a futon is a thin mattress placed on the floor for sleeping, and can be folded and stored away for the day. It is most likely derived from the Chinese term “fu tuan”.

3. Kabuki : (noun, adjective)

“Kabuki” is actually the classical Japanese dance opera. It literally means sing, dance and skill, which is loosely translated as “the art of singing and dancing”. The English meaning would be “for show only” or “just make-belief”.

4. Honcho : (noun, verb)

As a noun “honcho” means “leader, boss, or one who is in charge”. And as a transitive verb, it means to organize, manage, lead or initiate an event or project. In Japanese, “honcho” means squad (hon) chief (cho).

5. Skosh : (noun)

“Skosh” means “wee bit, or small amount”. It is from the Japanese term “sukoshi” which means “a little bit”.

6. Kamikaze : (noun, adjective)

Everyone knows this dreaded term. As a noun it means a person who behaves dangerously with self-destructive tendencies. As an adjective, kamikaze means extremely reckless and potentially self-destructive behavior. In Japanese it means divine (kami) wind (kaze).

Originally, “kamikaze” in Japanese folklore, was the “divine wind” that destroyed the invading Mongolian fleet of Kublai Khan. The modern version is used to describe the infamous Japanese pilots who simply dive-crashed their planes onto enemy targets, especially ships. “Kamikaze” is now generally considered to mean “self-destruction”.

7. Tycoon : (noun)

“Tycoon” means “a very rich and powerful person, especially in business”. This word is similar to both Japanese and Chinese, having the same meaning “great prince”. Interestingly, aides of Abraham Lincoln affectionately referred him as “The Tycoon”.

8. Tsunami (noun) or tsunamic (adjective)

This term was not commonly known until the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. In Japanese “tsunami” means harbor (tsu) wave (nami). The proper technical term is called “seismic sea wave”.

9. Sayonara (noun, interjection)

This term is most well-known to everyone around the world. I put it last to make it more meaningful. “Sayonara” simply means “good-bye”, or literally “if it is to be that way”.

Aftermath Of Tsunami (Aceh, Indonesia, 2004)

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English Words That I Have Never Heard Before Lest Understood

This wonderful website introduces words from the English language that I have never come across, lest understand their meanings. Sometimes it makes me wonder what will happen if only these strange and bombastic words are used daily. The English then would be French to most of us. Well, I hope you enjoy reading this article. You may like to read about the origins of other English words as well in my other article, “English Words Derived From Baddies Out Of Fiction”.

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Comments 7 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Very interesting and indeed I had not given them thought, so thank you for sharing this with us. ^


Carola Finch profile image

Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Very interesting. Learned some new things today. Languages have always fascinated me.


Good Guy profile image

Good Guy 3 years ago from Malaysia Author

Hi Jackie and Carola,

Thanks for reading and encouragement. Look out for the next one in due course, about Chinese things in the English language.


fivesenses profile image

fivesenses 3 years ago from new delhi

very informative and interesting info about the different words.


Good Guy profile image

Good Guy 3 years ago from Malaysia Author

Hi fivesenses ,

Thanks for reading and your encouraging comment.


villyvacker profile image

villyvacker 2 years ago from Manchester England

Great article.....and now I must go....."If it is to be that way"


Tolovaj profile image

Tolovaj 23 months ago

I had no idea there are so many popular Japanese words which became popular among English speakers. With more and more exchange of people, services etc., the number will probably rise very fast.

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