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: 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 with it.

It often goes without saying in English that there are... 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 “painstaking” are also potential translations for 徹底的 or 徹底 as an adjective.

The word appears as a verb too.... 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 out-of-their depth translators) as “I want to challenge skiing.” In the case ofスキーをチャレンジしたいです, it... more

Word Wise: Spreading the Word

普及 Fukyū

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... more

Word Wise: The Senses of “Sacred”

聖地 Seichi

By Lynne E. Riggs  

This is the Japanese title for a series of articles about people who spearhead the creation of 聖地 for various attractions, such as film locations, anime settings, and blue jeans (see the original and the translation in three languages here). A perusal of the Internet shows that the word is widely used... more

Word Wise: Why Can’t We All Just Get On?

共生 Kyōsei

By Richard Medhurst

Look up 共生 in a J-E dictionary and you might find “symbiosis” or “coexistence,” but these rarely fit when I translate Japanese sentences. The former describes a mutual biological dependence, while the latter suggests a grudging acceptance. Take 自然と人類の共生; the ideal relationship between humanity and nature is generally described as “harmonious.” To talk of “harmony between people... more