Wordwise 126 A2854

Top 3: False Friends

  • 2016.05.18

We all need friends, but what if those friends are “*false friends”? When English teachers talk about false friends, they are talking about English words that look similar to words we use in Japanese, but that have very different meanings. In other words, they look like friends but are not really.

These days, Japanese borrows many words from English (as well as many other languages). Sometimes these words are known as Japanese-English or 和製英語. Think of a television tarento (personality/star), car handoru (steering wheel), and meiku (make-up).
To be honest, there are many false friends so choosing the Top 3 is almost impossible. So, here are my personal “favorites”.

1. Claim

Japanese people may often claim when something is done poorly. For example, when a person has a problem with a hotel room, he or she may claim to the front desk about it. In English, however, claim generally means either saying that something is true or that something belongs to you. The correct word to use for the hotel situation is complain– it sounds similar to ‘claim’, but the meaning is very different.   

2. High tension

In Japan, a person who has a lot of energy may be described as high tension. In English, this phrase would probably best be used to describe a wire that is held very tightly. Better words Japanese students should use to describe their high tension friend are excited, excitable, enthusiastic or lively.

3. Consent

The hole in wall that we plug electrical devices is known as a socket (UK) or power outlet (US). In Japan, the English-sounding word  コンセント(consent) is used.  In English, *consent is very similar in meaning to permission. So, you can imagine why foreigners in Japan often look confused when they first hear that they need to plug their device into the consent.

As I said, these are just 3 of many false friends. Of course, if you hear a word in English that sounds similar to something you’ve heard in Japanese, you should consider that the meaning may be similar. However, remember that some friends aren’t true friends!


*false friends:空似言葉(そらにことば)-2言語間で形態は同じだが、意味が異なる単語や成句