English Atrocities: Arbitrary Word Fraying

If it sounds unreasonable to equate cooks and cocks (see last English Atrocities post), especially when there’s an option not to, consider the opposite problem–namely, creating multiple, context-based Japanese spellings for what is in reality one English word.

Joke: When is a cup not a cup?
Answer: When it’s a cup.

If you’re scratching your head or have spewed Jell-O pudding from your craw in disgust, you’re neither alone nor deserving of criticism, for to the seasoned English-speaker, a cup is a cup when and only when it is a cup, and at no other time can it be, nor would it aspire to be, a cup.

But they got a whole different world view in Japan. Here, you will find that a cup is sometimes a koppu, sometimes a kappu, and sometimes some other thing entirely, like a dish or a fork. A cup that is round and handle-less and not made of glass (which would make it a gurasu (glass), not to be confused with garasu, which is the material glass and which is written with kanji rather than the katakana typically used for borrowed words) is a koppu. A cup on a brazierre is a kappu, as is a cup that holds ramen, even if it has no handle and is not a gurasu made of garasu, and especially if your ramen has a boob in it. The Stanley Cup is unknown here, but if they ever found out about it, it would be a kappu as well. A mug is known–strictly–as a maggu kappu (mug cup), unless it’s a beer mug, in which case it’s neither a mug nor a cup, but a “jockey” (jokkii).

Likewise is the problem presented by “gum”. If it’s minty or bubbly and you chew it, it’s gamu. This is a standard transliteration of an English word, where the shot “u” sound transfers to the Japanese vowel あ (a). Meanwhile, the material rubber is known as gomu, an irregular transliteration where the English short “u” becomes a Japanese お (o). Not only is this confusing because of the irregularity, but also because this irregularity exists where it isn’t necessary as demonstrated by the fact that Bubblicious gum et al is transliterated according to the goddamn standard. Not to mention the fact that no one else has called rubber “gum” since like the 1920s. Know what they call rubber bands in Japan? Wa-gomu. It’s like saying “loop gums”. Can you imagine trying to use that?

“Hey Harold, I gotta bind these old radical underground free papers, so huck me a coupla them dang old loop gums already.”
“Huck your own darn loop gums, Barry. I’ve got my own things to bind.”

That’s how that would go.

If all of this gum pandemonium hasn’t already dissuaded you from ever owning a Japanese product again, allow the plot–along with your own throbbing disdain–to thicken. You know that transparent sucrose goo you use to sweeten ice coffee? Well, that too is known as gum (gamu), or gum syrup, with the spelling indicating that it shares more in common with a slat of Trident than with rubber. I guess that’s easy enough to imagine. Both gum and sugar syrup are sweet, they both have calories, they go in your mouth. My problem is with the word “gummy”, which they’ve got here now, except that they only use it as a noun. Gummy candies are known as “gummies”, but transliterated, inexplicably, as gumi, (sounds likes “GOO-mee”) indicating no relation to gum or rubber, both of which it resembles a whole fuck of a lot more than sucrose syrup does. Let alone the fact that “gummy” actually comes from the same root word “gum”, unlike rubber. I don’t know who I’m referring to when I ask this, but what the hell were they thinking?

To summarize:

Koppu – A drinking cup with no handle and not made of glass.
Gurasu – A glass.
Garasu – Glass.
Maggu kappu – A mug that isn’t a beer mug.
Jockey – A beer mug. Also, WTF.
Kappu – A cup that holds ramen, breasts, or the glory of victory in sports.
Gamu – Chewing gum.
Gamu Syrup – Sucrose
Gomu – Rubber
Gumi – “A” gummy.

The anguish goes on eternally, but to go into any further detail would surely send me into an enraged frenzy and also require additional thought. ‘Til next time:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s