Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Silly English/Japanese


If you spend a brief amount of time in Japan, you see people walking around in shirts with funny English on them. If you spend a brief amount of time looking at blogs written by people living in Japan, you see pictures of these sorts of shirts.


Foreign people aren't sure who thinks up the English for these shirts. Sometimes, they are random words and some seem to be long strings of ideas which don't quite come together. One thing is for sure, the Japanese don't care about what these things say in English. They know it's wrong but the lettering itself just looks cool to them.


One of my students wore such a shirt to a lesson last week which made me think that not all the designs are blithely tossed out there or random. Her shirt is not pictured because it would have been rather inappropriate (and rude) for me to ask her to let me snap a picture of her torso for my blog. The shirt she was wearing had the word "sagacious" written down along it in black dots about 8 times with the letters "TNFLTP" written in red about 6 times in front of the repeated"sagacious". If I had seen this as a random shirt on the street, I would have wondered what on earth it was on about and then forgotten it but the student asked me what it meant. I knew "sagacious" meant "shrewd" or "intelligent" but had no idea about TNFLTP.

I looked it up using Google and discovered these letters are part of a genetic sequence. Since I'm not an expert in genetics, I don't know if these letters were coincidentally part of a genetic sequence or if the entire shirt was a sly "in joke" about "intelligent" (sagacious) genes. Following my research a bit further, the sequence seemed to have been related to the DNA of Japanese rice but I'm afraid I was well in over my head at that stage in terms of understanding things. It did make me wonder though if there is hidden meaning or humor in a lot of the funny English shirts we see.


When my student and I discussed this issue, she mentioned that the Japanese don't think clothing with Japanese words is "cool" and they find it pretty unappealing by and large. She said that she noticed when she was in Hawaii that there were people with Japanese/Chinese characters as tattoos as well as on their clothes and that they were often as funny to her as English on shirts is to us.


She said that one of the funniest she saw was a man with a tattoo on his back of a character which meant "sheep". She found it particularly amusing because this was a pretty well-built, masculine fellow walking around with this absurd tattoo, possibly thinking it was really cool.

8 comments:

lostinube said...

There's a blog dedicated to people with kanji tattoos:
Hanzi Smatter

Shari said...

Thanks a lot for the excellent link!

Miko said...

What really scares me is that these days I often can't distinguish between "normal" English and mangled Japanese English. In other words, the T-shirts make sense to me! Been here way too long ....

Shari said...

Sometimes when I was working and correcting reports with the same content again and again, I'd see the same error so many times, I'd start thinking it was correct. On days when I had about 50-70 reports to do, I'd have to stop myself from making the "correct" version incorrect to match the so often wrong version.

So, I really know how you feel, Miko!

CMUwriter said...

That tattoo blog really hit a nerve with me. People go all willy nilly with that type of thing and don't see the forest for the trees. I know a lot of old men who really regret getting tattoos.

tornados28 said...

Yes, there are alot of funny english phrases on clothing in Japan. And you are right that vice versa, there are alot of silly or completely incorrect japanese or chinese characters in America and elsewhere, especially as tattoos. My japanese wife often laughs at the rediculous or incorrect tattoos she sees here in Los Angeles.

Yanpa said...

On two different occasions I've been peripherally involved in the design process of t-shirts which were produced / sold in Japan, and both times it took some persuading that my version of the "slogan" - rather than the original designers' suggestions - was correct and made sense, which was important because it really needed to make sense (which was why I was asked in the first place...).

Given that, and other experiences with English in Japan, it's pretty much certain that 99% of the "English" of the type quoted here in Japan has no deeper meaning, other than being a collection of random words or living proof the English of whoever wrote it is not as good as they think.

I've seen some pretty awful kanji tatoos here in Europe; the last couple of years they've become very fashionable (though what's trendy about having "monkey sheep dog" written down the back of your neck beats me).

Anonymous said...

I once told my Japanese friend about how about 90% of the English on T-shirts was wrong, and he said in defence that it was because the shirts were made in China. Either way, I don't think I'll ever understand what's so cool about English...
The majority of the time (although it is incorrec) I can understand what the person who made it meant to say. You know, "I love dream is happy" sort of makes sense, and i know what they meant to say. But the other day I saw a T-shirt which had an awesome design but said on the back
"I am cool.
I will wear it with these underwear."

...What on earth did they orignally want to say in Japanese?!?