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: 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

Word Wise: More You, But in a Good Way

らしい Rashii

By Richard Medhurst

When people advise “be yourself,” they certainly don’t want you to follow your worst instincts. The aim is to become more “you” in a good way, fulfilling the potential within you. There is a similar aspirational idea in 自分らしい in Japanese. You are “like yourself” in a positive manner. It is... more

Word Wise: Etc.?

など、など、等  Nado

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... more

Word Wise: Covering All the Bases

徹底 Tettei

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... more

Word Wise: This Month’s Word Challenge

チャレンジ Charenji

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... more