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Why are buffets called "Viking" and staplers called "Hotchkiss" in Japanese?


English words that are lost in translation.

Let's play a little game.

In the 1969 book, Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick, idle workers kill time creating puzzles by jumbling words through numerous translation services, much like the classic children's game of "telephone". So ring-ring, this call's for you.

First Round, Warmup - How many you get correct? There are 15 in all.

  • オーライ(oh-rai) is called when someone drives in reverse, what does it mean...

a(ll) righ(t)

  • カンニング (kanningu) is "cunning", but with Japanese intonation it means...

To cheat (on a test)

  • エキス (ekis) pops up with supplements or aromatherapy. Like vanilla...


  • テンション (tenshon) is "tension", but Japanese use it to mean...


  • and what is a チェリーボーイ (cherībōi) "cherry boy"?...

A male virgin

Next round, Technology - Usually pretty straightforward, but here are the funner ones.

  • A power outlet is called a (konsent) コンセント, what does that refer to?

concent(ric plug)

Apparently plugs were round in early 20th century,

which may be where the word comes from.

  • Why is a mechanical pencil called a (shā-pen) シャーペン?

shar(p) pen(cil)

The company that popularized mechanical pencils

in Japan was the Sharp Corporation.

  • Why are staplers called (hotchikisu) ホッチキス?


Again, a name, this time for both the company

and the inventor, somehow it took root in Japan.

  • Why are commercials called a (C.M.) シーエム?

Commercial Message

I always wondered what the M stood for...

Next is the best round, Food - There may be a few surprises for you...

  • Why is an all-you-can-eat buffet called (viking) ヴァイキング?

From the restaurant "Imperial Viking" in the Imperial Hotel,

which was the first restaurant in Japan to serve buffet-style meals

and inspired by the 1958 American film The Vikings.

  • Deep-friend (Katsu) カツ is delicious over rice, but what's its origin word?


... Really?...

  • (Calpis) カルピス is a milky soft drink, but what's its origin? No, it's not "Cow Piss".

    • cal(cium) + ?? ??? (sar)pis (Sanskrit for "tastes good")

The final round, Other Languages - Although most Japanese think these are English...

  • Bread is called (Pan) パン in Japanese, but what language is it from?


So naturally the French and Spanish words are similar.

  • Unfortunately, pants in Japanese are called (zubon) ズボン, what language is that?

Well apparently it's a mistranslation of the old French

word for petticoat, jupon, which is worn under a dress...oops.

  • A Halloween mummy is called a (miira) ミイラ, why is that?


Remember the three wise men with their frankincense and myrrh?

Apparently myrrh is an ancient preservative, also used for mummification.

Originally a Hebrew word.

So did you learn anything new? Did we miss any good ones?

Tell us in the comments, and let us know your score!

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