Sunday, April 15, 2018

Loan words

Japanese signage in Katakana. Photo: Sébastien Bertrand

Japanese uses a tremendous amount of loan words from various European languages. Katakana, one of the three writing systems used in Japanese, is used exclusively for this foreign vocubulary. 

Some loan words change meaning when adopted into another language. For example, Arubaito アルバイト taken from the German word for 'work', means simply 'part-time job' in Japanese. 

Some words retain not only their meaning, but also, largely, their pronounciation. Ex.: Kamera カメラ-- camera

Some words undergo sort of an extreme make-over. It can take a while to see/hear/read the connection between the borrowed word and their original language counterparts.
Ex.: Mishin ミシン -- sewing machine  ('Mishin' sounds a bit like 'machine', so there you go!)

German uses a lot of borrowed words as well. Like Japanese, the meaning of these words can either be fairly clear or not at all. 

To an English speaker, der Shitstorm (yes, it's in Duden), das Baby and der Computer make sense. Der Smoking, on the face of it, is a bit of a quandry. Der Smoking means 'tuxedo jacket' or (now an outdated word in English) 'smoking jacket'. I like to think that an image of James Bond smoking a cigarette was the inspiration for this loan word. 

German nouns have a certain solidity and all-encompassing feeling that one doesn't necessarily get from English nouns.  This is especially so when thinking of suitable equivalents to words like, 'Weltanschauung' and 'Zeitgeist'. To use the English translations of these two concepts, 'world view' and 'spirit of the times', just doesn't cut it somehow. 

'Sally is about to start school at the Garden of Children'. That sentence has kind of an eerie ring to it.  And, no, I'll not be sending my child there, thank you, but instead to a Kindergarten. 

Loan words in English from German that I especially like:

Pretzel (Brezel)
Weisswurst, Bratwurst, Knackwurst  (Sausage)
Delicatessen (Delikatessen)-where to find all of the above, hopefully. 
Angst  (Thanks, Freud!)
Scheisse (can be spoken with or without the final 'e')

-any loan words you find yourself using that you especially enjoy?


  1. I think most languages have begged, borrowed, stolen words from other languages and cultures. English is also guilty.

    1. Joanne mentioned a good'un: doppelganger. :)

  2. Doppelganger! I just love that word. So tell me why it sounds like what it is. We know it, but why?

    1. Of course! Doppelganger is tops in my book, too!

    2. 'Doppel' means double. 'Gang' means, among other things, gait or motion. It sounds like your double who moves as you move. Somewhat sinister when you break it down.

      I guess 'trebleganger' could then mean the double of your double! :D

  3. "English is a language that lurks in dark alleys beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary."


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