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


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". But just Japanese is more than enough to get lost in translation.

First Round, Warmup - Give it a whirl and count how many you get correct!

  • 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 (eki su) pops up with supplements or aromatherapy. Like vanilla...


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


  • チェリーボーイ (cherībōi) means "cherry boy", and is unique in Japan to mean...

A male virgin

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

  • Why is a power outlet called a (konsent) コンセント?

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 "good taste")

This one joins English with Sanskrit!

The final round, Other Languages - Although most Japanese think they're English...

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


So naturally the French and Spanish words are similar.

This is one word where they have the advantage.

  • 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, what 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 your favorites in the comments below, or just let us know how you scored!

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