5 Surprising Japanese words that originate from German
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Japanese has several words that originate from foreign languages. Many of them are from France and Germany due to their cultural and scientific prominence during Japan’s modernization in the Meiji period (1868-1912).
A lot of medical words originate from Germany because Japanese doctors studied medicine in Germany during that period. Also common are words related to mountain climbing and skiing, such as gerende for “ski slope”. In this article, we want to have a look at some Japanese words that originate in German. The sub-headings first mention the Japanese word, followed by the German translation and the English translation.
1. アルバイト (arubaito) – Nebenjob – Part-time job
Arubaito originates from the German word Arbeit which means work in a more general sense, but in Japanese arubaito refers to a casual part-time job. When a German says Arbeit they would most probably refer to a full-time job. In Germany, a part-time job is called Nebenjob.
2. カルテ (karute) – Krankenakte – medical records
Karute originates from the German word Karte which just means card. We are not sure why this word is used for the term “medial records” as these usually are called “Krankenakte” or “Patientenakte” (Lit. patients file) in German. A simple card would probably not be enough to hold all the data you need.
A Baumkuchen is a German cake that looks like a tree when you cut it open because it has rings like the rings of a tree. These rings are formed because the batter is put on a stick and in several layers. In Germany, a Baumkuchen is usually covered in chocolate whereas in Japan you can often find variants without chocolate. You can also find adaptations for the Japanese market, like e.g., Matcha flavored Baumkuchen
4. メルヘン(meruhen) – Märchen – fairy tale
Even though there also is a Japanese word for fairy tale おとぎ話 (otogi banashi) the word メルヘン is used quite often. There also is the adjectiveメルヘンチック (meruhen-chikku) that uses the English syllable -tic to form a word that means “fairy-tale-like”. This combination of German and English makes this word especially confusing for foreigners that learn Japanese. It belongs to the category of wasei-eigo (Japanese pseudo-Anglicisms), which refers to Japanese-language expressions based on English words, that do not exist in Standard English.
5. レントゲン (rentogen) – Röntgen – X-ray
There also is a Japanese word for X-Ray (X線) but is commonly calledレントゲン based on the name of the inventor Willhem Röntgen who was a German physicist. The term Röntgen is commonly used in Germany and middle and east Europe, whereas in other languages the term that Röntgen himself used initially, X-Ray, is more common.