On Engrish

In my town there is a ‘Meet Shop’ where you can buy meat, a hair salon where you can get a ‘purm’, another where you can get a ‘parm’ and a restaurant which offers ‘seefood’ curry. Whilst a ‘crap’ instead of a ‘clap’ might still get my schoolboy funnybones rattling, most of the time I take no notice of such spelling errors. But they are there in my town, just as similar ones are ubiquitous in towns all over Japan.

The reason I mention this is that I was chatting to a Japanese chap last night and he came out with that old chestnut about westerners getting nonsensical kanji tattoos. You know the sort of thing: the guy that wants to get Strength Through Adversity in Japanese, doesn’t do his research properly and comes out with Poverty Gives Me a Stiffy. Anyway, the guy was delighting in such stupidity, and I have to say I’m with him on this; if you’re going to get something permanently etched onto your skin, take responsibility to find out exactly what you want. Don’t bother, and you deserve to be laughed at.

Now, I suppose it isn’t as important to check whether to write ‘seefood’ or ‘seafood’ on a menu, or whether you get a ‘purm’ or even a ‘parm’ as it is to check the meaning of an impending tattoo, but they are errors all the same and they are everywhere. And, of course, those are just simple misspellings. There are all the examples of incomprehensible English, like this curry restaurant’s slogan:

and the things which may be without error but are simply inappropriate, like this t-shirt and this garage in Kyoto:

Whilst I agreed and laughed along with the guy about the tattoos, I happened to mention that I see nonsensical English every day in Japan. Every single day. ‘You can’t walk down a street without seeing several t-shirts which mean absolutely nothing,’ I said.

He didn’t see the point. ‘But they are just t-shirts’, he said.

True. Well, t-shirts and slogans for businesses and menus and… but I guess what he was saying was that they are not tattooing them onto their skin. A fair point, but still, it got me thinking, what would Japanese tourists think if they went to, say, London and on every single street there was a sign, a t-shirt, a slogan of completely bastardized Japanese? Would it be amusing, annoying, or just weird? Who knows? We’re used to the Engrish here, but it really is bizarre that such nonsense can be so widespread, and that everybody seems so utterly unperturbed by the fact that  it means nothing. Yes, I know there are some Engrish slogans that make sense to  some Japanese in that they can get what the writer meant, something like, ‘For your beautiful every day life’, but equally there are millions of children strolling around with words on their clothes that mean nothing to anybody anywhere.

Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter. If it gives bloggers in Japan material for slow days, and the people wearing it like how it looks, then fine. Just as long as it stays on clothes and signs. After all, it’s better to be laughed at for having ‘Creamy Space Boy – for your comfortable ejaculation!’ scrawled across the side of your boy-racer sports car than it is for having it inked indelibly onto your chest.

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7 Responses to On Engrish

  1. cocopuff1212 says:

    There is a clothing brand called “Superdry”. I nad never seen it in the U.S. but it’s very popular in France. The brand’s logo includes a Japanese phrase — 極度乾燥(しなさい).

    Now, I figured this must be a French brand — I couldn’t imagine English-speaking marketing people deciding on this brand name. I was pretty sure that, some French marketing executive somewhere in France, trying to reach the generation that thinks English is a cool language, came up with the brand name, and uppped the “cool ratio” by adding yet another cool language (which they didn’t quite understand) to the brand image. I mean, what does 極度乾燥(しなさい)mean? Tumble-dry my clothes for three hours in the dryer??

    Turns out, this brand is popular in England as well. What do you know…

    Totally on the side note, seeing this brandname always makes me thirsty for beer.

    • I saw that brand in the UK and my initial immediate reaction was, “Since when did Asahi start making clothes?” Wonder where the company is from and why they went with that name and slogan?

  2. bloosom_kaoru says:

    I think Superdry is a British brand, set up in Cheltenham but that’s as far as I know. I must find out more as they intrigue me!

    Oh, there is a hair salon called Beauty Brain Fanny near my parents which is a particular favourite of my husband’s.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Bad/improper use of English and katakana are the bane of English teachers in Japan. The problem I found 20 years ago when teaching was that it is so pervasive that there is almost no fixing it with some students. Before they got into a proper English class taught by a native speaker, chances are they’d been using some “English” phrase or word for years thinking it was the real thing. “Safety driver” for example. I got this a lot in conversation and written work then because my students were all at an age when they could get a driver’s license.

    Even the advertising department of the senmon gakko where I taught (a division of Kawaijuku) would invariably arrive at some horrible slogan that made no sense, and only show it to the gaijin instructors “for editing” after it had been decided on.

    This is the age old debate that will only find an end when the Ministry of Education decides that it really wants junior high and high school students to understand English. However, this will never come about until they insist that all Japanese English teachers can actually speak English. And if they continue to educate their English teachers at the university level without sending them abroad to an English speaking country for their junior year and encouraging additional trips over the summer holidays, you’ll never produce teachers with the necessary skills. Do this, and ALT, the JET program and eikaiwa ride off into the sunset.

    That being said, I’d miss Engrish.com.

    • Yes – “safety driver” is an annoying one if you’re trying to teach English. Even Kumon, which is a huge educational company managed to misspell “intonation” on their newspaper insert advertisement in this area. Not good when advertising for English lessons, but ultimately not important, as only the people who probably don’t need English lessons would notice!

  4. sibylleito says:

    For your information I had found more than 15 years ago in LA at a local T-shirt store on Santa Monica’s 3rd street a T-shirt with a large Japanese writing on it: “私はバカなアメリカ人です!” I did not buy it when a say it, but when returning the next day I was told all sold out… I wish I had an example of it.

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