There are lots of Japanese words that are borrowed from English and twisted into Japanese phonetics. These are called 外来語. It makes it easy if you're just learning Japanese - try saying an English word in a thick Japanese accent, and you just might be understood.
- Japanese words borrowed from other languages
Then, there is 和製英語. These are words that are completely made up by the Japanese but sound like or consist of English words. Contrary to what many Japanese think, these are not English words. In fact, some of them are pretty darn strange to English speakers.
- Japanese-made English
Here are 10 of the weirdest ones I could think of.
Don't get too excited if you're moving to Japan to live in a mansion. These mansions are actually condominiums. I have no idea how this creation came about. Some of the mansions I've seen in Japan were less than luxurious. Is it a joke? I suspect it might be a borrowed word from French.
No, this word doesn't refer to the Norse sea warriors who raped and pillaged northern Europe in the Middle Ages. It refers to a restaurant where you can rape and pillage a buffet table and get as many free refills as you want. Too bad they don't have giant turkey legs!
ナイスガイ (nice guy)
This one is a bit confusing. I've had people tell me upon meeting me (usually in bars and with funny winks and smiles), 'Oh! You are a nice guy!' I am? Apparently in Japanese, this means something like handsome or cool. Aw, thanks!
アメリカンドッグ (American dog)
The Japanese eat dogs!? The Japanese eat octopus, eel, whale and sea urchin, but dogs are safe here. An 'American dog' is a hot dog covered in cornmeal batter and deep fried. In other words, a corn dog.
ハイテンション (high tension)
In Japan, this term has nothing to do with electricity. It refers to someone who is very energetic. Whenever somebody says that my daughter is high tension, I always imagine sparks shooting out of her eyes. Not too far off the mark, I guess.
Although you can get snacks here, the real purpose of visiting a 'snack' is to swill alcohol, sing a little カラオケ, and have a woman pour your drinks and listen attentively to whatever boring crap you say while titillating and flattering you. A 'snack pub' is a low-grade hostess bar.
There's a commercial in Japan where two guys are climbing a mountain and when one almost slips, the other guy heroically grabs his hand and they both start screaming 'FIGHTOOOOOOO!!!!" Then, they get to the top and chug tiny energy drinks. The word 'fight' means the same thing as 頑張れ, 'do your best' or 'hang in there.'
- Do your best!
This one is irksome. 'Half' refers to someone who is half-Japanese and half-something-else. Although it's just a shortening of the phrase 'half-Japanese,' it sounds a little bit ugly to the Western ear. Shouldn't a mixed race person be called 'double'?
ハイミス (high miss)
'High miss' brings to mind a whole assortment of funny images. Try to guess what it means before you look at the answer... okay, ready? It means a woman who has gotten into middle age without marrying - sort of like the word 'spinster'.
ソープランド (soap land)
Probably the ultimate 和製英語, a soap land is a place where you take a bath. But what makes a soap land unique is that you take a young woman there with you and pay her to do filthy things. A soap land is a brothel. And one more 和製英語 term that you should know if you're going to visit one is ヘルス (health). It's a certain type of service you can get there and I'm not telling what it means!*
*Note - The author has never visited one. Serious. This information is all hearsay.