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 for sapping readers’ will to understand. But the word he chose to name this kind of language after was 整備.

As often with the words chosen for this column, 整備 has a broad range of use. This can be broken down, however, into two main meanings. Broadly, seibi is either used to describe providing something new or maintaining something that is already in place. The exact meaning may be clear from immediate context or later in the material to be translated, and sometimes it is possible to find online.

Assuming we have information about the context, 整備 might be variously translated as construction of a hospital, preparation of a site for a new facility, establishment of new infrastructure, introduction of training, or implementation of a new policy. As the repetition indicates, these are all related to providing something new. For something already in place, you might have servicing of vehicles or maintenance of a sports field.

What if the meaning is not clear? After making my best guess, I’d ask for confirmation in a comment. Ideally, I want the English to be clear even if the Japanese is not. If information is not forthcoming, however, I must confess to falling back on more ambiguous English words like implement. It certainly doesn’t result in limpid prose, but it reflects the Japanese.

What do you do with 整備? Do you have any suggestions for words to cover? Make your feelings plain by dropping us a line at SWET or by leaving a comment on the SWET Facebook page.