Swet Columns

Japanese and English express ideas in different ways, as every translator is regularly reminded, and ensuring natural output sometimes requires a little reflection. This column offers a record of grapples with thorny words and phrases.

Word Wise: Appealing to Your Better Judgment

魅力 Miryoku

by Richard Medhurst

Among the versatile words that Japanese copy writers reach for most, 魅力 and the adjectival form 魅力的 are seen particularly in tourism texts. Depending on context, translators could talk about “the appeal of traditional ryokan inns” (旅館の魅力), “the charms of Hakodate” (函館の魅力)... more

Word Wise: Making Assessments

評価 Hyōka

By Richard Medhurst

Japanese words with distinct, similar meanings can be troublesome. This is especially true when they have small but crucial differences. The primary dictionary definitions of 評価 tell us that this word is used to decide the value of something or someone. This suggests English words like to “assess” or... more

Word Wise: Focusing on Translation

を中心に o chūshin ni

By Richard Medhurst

When choosing how to translate を中心に, there are two basic sets of options I regularly consider. If a product is described as 女性を中心に人気, this could be translated as “particularly popular with women,” “mainly popular,” “especially popular,” “primarily popular,” and so on.... more

Word Wise: Deal With It

対応 Taiō

By Richard Medhurst

Translators are constantly dealing with work assignments. Many of them contain the word 対応, which itself could be translated as “deal with” or “handle.” In this sense of an action with an object, 対応 also commonly becomes “respond” or “response.” The first suggestions seem in general to be an... more

Word Wise: Baffling by Design

整備 Seibi

By Richard Medhurst


There’s a Japanese Wikipedia article on 整備文, a term devised by Canadian author Iain Arthy to refer to the obfuscatory language deployed by elites in his book Oeragata no Nihongojuku 『政・官・財(おえらがた)の日本語塾』(1996). It singles out words like 検討, 施設, and ... more

Word Wise: Get a Grip

把握 Haaku

By Richard Medhurst

Some words look straightforward enough in the context of a Japanese sentence, but are not always easy to translate. Take 把握, consisting of two kanji meaning to “grip” or “grasp.” This latter word, “grasp,” is a common J-E dictionary entry for 把握 as it has the same connection with physically... more