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: Typically Troublesome

By Richard Medhurst

What is the ultimate bugbear translation term? If there was a vote, 代表的 might well be in the running. Both it and synonymous variations of を代表する are scattered across Japanese texts at a rate that can vex translators who want to keep their writing fresh.

The way 代表的 covers a broad range of meaning from neutral description through to... more

Word Wise: According to Habit

By Richard Medhurst

While it is handy to have default translations for terms, a little variety can refresh both writer and reader. The phrase によると is common in Japanese and commonly rendered by translators as “according to” in English.

With a company or public figure, it may be possible to use “stated” or “announced,” when the context is clear or easily checked,... more

Word Wise: Second Appeal

By Richard Medhurst

I hear you soon find out who your true friends are when you appeal to them for help. Meanwhile, アピールする is one of the katakana false friends that I seem to meet on a regular basis. It is connected to the English verb “appeal” in that it is seeking positive action or judgment from others, but direct replacement... more

Word Wise: Safety First

By Richard Medhurst

Japan is particularly prone to disasters, and 2018 was no exception, to the point that 災 was chosen as the kanji of the year. The country tackles this perennial problem with 防災 practices aimed at reducing the harm that disasters cause. While the English-speaking world also has such measures, there is a range of terms that may be... more

Word Wise: Population Phrases

By Richard Medhurst

Japan’s declining birth rate and aging population affect its society in countless ways. The country is considering such issues as how to maintain enough workers to support its industries and social security expenses, while many of its smaller communities face potential extinction. Typically the changes Japan is going through are summed up in the phrase 少子高齢化, which may... more

Word Wise: Attention Please

注目 Chūmoku

By Richard Medhurst

I often see the phrase 注目を集める or its close counterpart 注目を浴びる translated to say that something is “attracting attention” or “drawing attention.” As 注目 means “attention” this popular rendering naturally follows. While it is not incorrect, and I use it myself at times, the English phrase is nowhere near as common in texts by native writers as... more