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 potential translations for 徹底的 or 徹底 as an adjective.

The word appears as a verb too. After an incident occurs, it may be employed in assertions that it won’t happen again. 再発防止を徹底します. In this example, I find the options open out. It is possible to remain with an adjective and add a neutral verb “take measures” to get “we will take thorough measures to prevent recurrence.” Or perhaps concentrate on the meaning: “we will ensure this issue does not arise again.”

It may be useful to think about two levels of meaning. Sometimes it is necessary to convey absolute certainty in English, as represented by words like “ensure” and “prevent.” This is most likely used by the authority voice, especially in areas where certainty is expected. If a company promises コンプライナスを徹底します—“we will ensure compliance”—it is saying there will be zero violations.

There are also times when there is less at stake. If a company uses the phrase 教育を徹底します about some less essential area, I would be more inclined to go with “we will conduct thorough training.”

I will admit that 徹底 is a bugbear of mine and given the many ways it is used, this short article is far from comprehensive. Leave no stone unturned by sending your own thoughts on how to translate it or suggestions for future words to info@swet.jp.

(For more articles in this series, see here.)