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 texts. The choice of English translation will vary, depending on what is being talked about. For drones or other technologies, I am more likely to refer to widespread “use” or “adoption,” but with activities, such as サーフィンの普及, “popularization” is a better fit. On the other hand, if important information is being actively spread, I might choose “dissemination.” A further point is that the Japanese term does not clearly define the scale of spread. Talking about the 普及 of smartphones is very different than when a company says that it aims to 普及させる a more niche product. In the first case, the translator has the chance to go beyond “widespread adoption” and say that “smartphones have become ubiquitous.” In the second, it might be better just to use “promote.”

With many Japanese words, it is possible (when feeling uninspired) to fall back on a go-to English translation that will at least make sense in most cases. Bu t普及 covers so many varied situations that it regularly gets me scratching my head and weighing up the alternatives. If you have any additional alternatives, feedback, or ideas for more “Word Wise” articles, contact us at info@swet.jp

(For more articles in this series, see here)