Japanese Loanwords Kyoto

5 English Words That Come From Japanese

Today I’m continuing my series on loanwords and looking at 5 words commonly used in English that originally came from Japanese.

Most of the loanwords seem to be related to food or represent unique Japanese concepts and items. The five I chose today are useful ones that I imagine might be new for many people.

5 Japanese Loanwords

Tycoon - 大君

In Japanese, this means something like ’emperor’ or ‘king’. In English, it refers to a wealthy or powerful person in a business. I used to be a rollercoaster tycoon as a child (in the game anyway!) Or perhaps you know a property tycoon?

Honcho - 班長

Honcho (pronounced hancho in Japanese) means a group leader. Similarly, in English it’s used to talk about a person in charge. We usually use it in the phrase “head honcho”.

I’m the head honcho of this organisation. I’m the boss.
The meeting is honchoed by him (much less common as a verb)

Zen - 禅

While the meaning of ‘zen’ in Japanese is deep and complex, in English it simply means a deep state of calm or peace. Spending time in nature makes me feel zen.

Emoji - 絵文字

Emoji (literally meaning ‘picture letter’ in Japanese) is used to refer to any smiley face using in text. It has mostly replaced the word ‘Emoticon’ that had the same meaning. ‘Emoji’ sounds cuter and more playful – perhaps that’s why! What’s your favourite emoji? 😋

Futon - 布団

The last one is futon. This is pronounced pretty much the same in Japanese and the meaning is similar. In Japan, futons are mattresses that go on the floor, quite often. I slept on one before and I remember it being super comfortable and warm in the winter. The Western futon seems a little different. It’s harder and cheaper and is usually used as a spare or a guest bed. Often a sofa that pulls out into a bed.

Do you know any more Japanese loanwords?

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