Katakana is that wonderful part of the Japanese language that makes you feel rather uncomfortable when pronouncing an English word in a way that just feels wrong. But as most Japanese learners will know, not all katakana words came from English. Some of them are entirely Japanese creations, and some come from other foreign languages. This article looks at six katakana words that you probably wouldn’t guess the meaning of as an English speaker.
ラッコ, sometimes written using the kanji 海獺, means sea otter in Japanese. Of course, “rakko” sounds nothing like its English equivalent. The word actually comes from the language of the Ainu, people native to the Japanese island of Hokkaido (北海道) and northern Honshu (本州). While it is estimated that there are less than 100 people that still speak the Ainu language, ラッコ is one word unlikely to be forgotten.
Here’s one you might be able to guess. It must mean an American breed of dog or something like that, right? Nope! An “American dog” is a snack you can buy at a convenience store in Japan. While the origins are very clearly English, アメリカンドッグ actually refers to corn dogs, probably because they are from the USA.
Now, what could this possibly mean? This word doesn’t actually come from English. Do you know what “piment” in French is? How about “pimento” in Spanish?
If you speak either of these languages, you may have realized that ピーマン means bell pepper. What’s even funnier is that ピーマン refers only to the green bell pepper, whereas red and yellow ones are called パプリカ (papurika)！
This is an easy one, right? It probably means to fight someone. Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, ファイト means something along the lines of “good luck”, “try your hardest” or “go get ’em!” and is used as a means of encouragement.
If you know the Japanese word 頑張れ (“ganbare!” or “good luck!”) then ファイト is very similar in meaning. So if someone in Japan yells ファイト at you, they don’t want to knock you out.
クランケ is surely a loan word for that feeling you have on a Monday morning. Surely a lot of people use it.
However, this isn’t the case. クランケ comes from the German word “Kranke” and means a patient, or someone suffering from an illness.
It should be noted that this word isn’t widely used, you are more likely to encounter the word 患者 (kanja), but クランケ does exist.
満タン will actually make a lot of sense to English speakers when you understand the origin of the word. Obviously, there are two parts to this one, the kanji 満 meaning “satisfied” or “full” and タン, which in this case comes from the English word “tank”. If we put the two meanings together we get a full tank. So when you want to fill your car up with petrol or gas, you want to ask for a 満タン.
There we go; 6 words that, as an English-speaking person learning Japanese, confused me at first. What is your favorite katakana word? Do you know any more that are strange or unusual?