died in the wool ______

To have no set purpose in one's life is the harlotry of the will -Stephen Mackenna-

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Japan is well known for taking existing things, changing them, and making them better.

Unfortunately not every thing they change is a change for the better.

For example,外来語 gairaigo or loan words. These are words that are foreign based and usually written in katakana.

A simple one would be テストtesuto, or test. Very little change has been made from the original meaning of the word.

Where everybody gets into trouble is when Japanese people take a seemingly English word and start changing the meaning.

A word that became popular recently is アイドリングストップ aidoringustoppu or idling stop. This is essentially a term which describes parking your car with the engine on, and sitting inside with the ac/heat cranked and watching tv in your car, rampant in Japan where houses are not much bigger than some cars with no central heating.

Some words that are quite popular among my coworkers right now are フォロー(forou, follow) and プラスアルファ (purasu arufa, plus alpha)

they usually use 'follow' as a verb. For example if I ask someone if a press release is ready, they will 'follow' and contact the appropriate person for me to see if the release is ready or not.

Plus alpha, although not immediately obvious when used in context, means an addition of a unnamed variable of an unassigned amount. The person who runs our weekly departmental meetings said it in a meeting yesterday. I've heard it used so many times, that I just didn't know exactly what it meant.

Many Japanese people think that gairaigo is interchangable with english (and many ugly foreigners think the opposite is true by putting english words in their speech assuming that the Japanese person will understand what they are saying. . This can be a problem because when written and spoken, gairaigo is much longer than most Japanese words.(for example 試験 shiken is test in Japanese and is only two characters, while テスト is 3. To accomodate this they often abbreviate gairaigo by using the first two katakana of each word. for example playstation us プレーステーション , but it can be abbreviated to just プレステ (puresute)

Somewhat similar is company's internal acronymns. Western companies are probably the same, but when a company division has a long name they abbreviate. For example, the R&D lab in Japanese's full name is 先端総合研究所  but internally it's abbreviated to 先端総研 , which to me at first meant absolutely nothing. Also a translator has to be concerned about the official English title of all these departments. the R&D lab is not simply the R&D lab, you must translate it corrently, otherwise it will really complicate things.


At 10:36 PM, Blogger SomewhatAtlanticPacific said...

Plus alpha is perfectly normal financial-ese/business English: Alpha is the term used to describe the risk adjusted outperformance of an investment. A large alpha indicates good performance relative to the market. (http://www.apt-finance.com/glossary-A.html). This is contrast to a beta, which measure how correlated a stock's risk is to the market.

I've heard it used in the UK and US and I use it regularly. . .and I think I would qualify as a native English speaker...

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Travis said...


that is one definition of the word (one I didn't know, thanks!), but this is my point that they take a word out of its original context and start using it for other purposes. The dictionary lists " plus something extra" as it's first definition, and the financial-ese definition last (4th)

At 6:45 AM, Blogger SomewhatAtlanticPacific said...

Sorry I wasn't clear-- I do use it speech meaning the "something extra"-- The alpha is the statistical extra--but maybe I hang around capital markets and Japanese too much and my English has become strange. . .


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