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: 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

Word Wise: Etc.?

など、など、等

By Richard Medhurst

Apprentice translators from Japanese to English soon encounter the など issue. Lists are typically followed by a など, and they may pop up with alarming frequency. Excessive use of “etc.” in English would be considered bad style, but Japanese follows different rules and we must deal with it.... more

Word Wise: Covering All the Bases

By Richard Medhurst

When Japanese companies, politicians, or other authority voices seek to reassure, one word they frequently reach for is 徹底. Sometimes it forms an adjective, as in 徹底的な調査, “a thorough investigation.” Depending what it is modifying, “complete,” “comprehensive,” “meticulous,” or “painstaking” are also... more

Word Wise: This Month’s Word Challenge

By Richard Medhurst

It’s pretty common for loanwords to change their meaning as they enter Japanese from English and these can present translation difficulties. Take チャレンジ, which is used quite differently in its verb form in Japanese, inspiring such errors by Japanese learners of English (and out-of-their depth translators) as... more

Word Wise: Spreading the Word

By Richard Medhurst

The widespread use of drones could bring economic growth, a recent NHK headline suggested, the Japanese ドローン普及で経済成長を featuring the highly versatile 普及. Given that the word is associated with spread and diffusion, it feels somehow appropriate that it is so prevalent across a range of Japanese... more

Word Wise: The Senses of “Sacred”

By Lynne E. Riggs

聖地をつくれ!

This is the Japanese title for a series of articles about people who spearhead the creation of 聖地 for various attractions, such as film locations, anime settings, and blue jeans (see the original and the translation in three languages here). A perusal of the Internet shows that the word is... more