Japanese Language Abbreviations and Contractions
A short, yet fun and helpful list of Japanese vocabulary
All languages have abbreviations and contractions (sometimes much to the consternation of translators and interpreters) and Japanese is no exception. The Japanese love shortening their language in new, catchy ways. These shortenings can range from common everyday items, to situations, and even people's names!
The biggest difference between English and Japanese language abbreviations is the forms in which they take, because the Japanese language doesn't use an alphabet, and therefore doesn't (usually) shorten words to just the initials such as AI (artificial intelligence). Rather, with the three writing systems they use (hiragana, katakana and kanji), they shorten words using those.
Japanese has no genetic relationship with Chinese, but it makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名).
What follows is a list of words for you to enjoy and use. Good fun especially if you are a learner of Japanese. Even I, a non-native Japanese-speaker, was surprised to find that some of the words I use every day (such as "shokupan") are actually contractions.
Note: The following list is set up in the following fashion: English word, Japanese equivalent in romaji (Latin script) and Japanese (kanji, hiragana, katakana), all separated by a virgule (slash). Your computer may not be able to read the Japanese font correctly and look like squares, question marks, or something like an "explosion" characters. If this is the case, please simply ignore it.
ball-point pen / booru pen / ボールペン
family restaurant / famiresu / ファミレス
email (address) / meru ado / メルアド
smartphone / sumaho / スマホ
convenience store / conbini / コンビニ
part-time job -- arbeit / baito (a truncation of the borrowed German word arubaito) / アルバイト
McDonald's / Makku / マック
Kentucky Fried Chicken / Kenta / ケンタ
Mister Donuts (a Japanese chain donut shop) / Misudo / ミスド
First Kitchen (a burger chain in Japan similar to McDonald's - and yes, the pronunciation is exactly the same as the "F bomb") / Fakkin / ファッキン [Go down past the NSFW version of the word and you will see First Kitchen listed.]
Starbucks / Sutaba / スタバ
Music Artist Names (There are a great number of shortenings of these, many of which you may know very well).
The Jesus and Mary Chain / JizaMeri / ジザメリ
Red Hot Chili Peppers / ReCChiri / レッチリ
Smashing Pumpkins / SumaPan / スマパン
My Chemical Romance / MaiKemi / マイケミ
English Alphabet Initials
I mentioned that the Japanese don't usually use initials like English does, but there are, of course, a few words. Some of them straight from English, and others seemingly from English, but are actually "Japanese-made English" words (Wasei-eigo).
OG / "old girl" / former female student; alumna
OB / "old boy" / former male student; alumnus
OL / "Office Lady" / Women who work in company offices. Think of them as the counterpart to Japanese businessmen. Their main role in the company is to serve tea, make copies, data input and other day-to-day tasks around the office.
PTA / Parent Teacher Association -- If you ask most Japanese what PTA means, they will give you the Japanese definition, but may not be aware of the uncontracted English term.
KY / kuuki yomenai -- This is a fun word to remember, it comes from the Japanese phrase kuuki yomenai (空気読めない), meaning "unable to read the situation". This is not a compliment, and it is often used as a negative regarding others. "That guy is really a dullard." "He really can't grasp the situation." "What a dolt." So while you will undoubtedly amaze your Japanese friends with this one, do be careful with it.
Nouns, verbs and adjectives*
eyelash extensions / matsueku / マツエク -- A portmanteau of まつ毛 (eyelashes) and エクステンション (extension)
to make an online purchase / pochiru / ポチる
last-minute cancellation / dotakyan /ドタキャン (short for 土壇場でキャンセルする)
underground shopping arcade / depa chika / デパ地下
sliced (sandwich) bread / shokupan /食パン
remote control / rimokon / リモコン
personal computer / pasokon / パソコン
starting lineup of a sports team / sutamen / スタメン
annoying / uzai / ウザイ (short for uzattai)
gross* / kimoi / キモい (short for kimochi warui)
plastic model / puramo / プラモ (of airplanes, tanks, boats, figures, etc.)
difficult / muzui / ムズイ (short for muzukashii)
bothersome / mendoi / めんどい (short for mendokusai)
gun-metal gray / ganmeta / ガンメタ
Don't worry about it. Don't sweat it. / donmai / ドンマイ (used as encouragement when someone makes a mistake.)
being in the top position with no rival in sight. clearly in the number one position. / dantotsu / ダントツ (contraction of 断然トップ)
to drink bubble tea / tapiru / タピる (an extremely timely word considering the Japanese are currently in the throes of a bubble-tea (boba tea) fad as of this writing )
* Many of the adjectives have a plethora of English equivalents. I'm just providing one here to keep the content short.
And last, but not least, a special entry.
~rou Sticking this simple three-letter (two character) ending on nouns can change them in to a short phrase meaning, "Let's ____." It is a contraction of yarou/shirou meaning "let's do".
Let's hit the McDonald's./ Makku-rou. / マックろう。
I could go for a coffee at Starbucks, what do you say?/ Sutaba-rou. / スタバろう。
Finally, don't miss the fantastic Wikipedia article on abbreviations and contractions for more words.
I've spent 20 years in Japan, and I enjoyed sharing the knowledge I've acquired, so if you enjoyed this article, consider reading the others I have here on Vocal:
"Beauty in Transience" -- Cherry blossom viewing in Japan - history, where to find, and "viewing etiquette"
"Unofficial Japanese Calendar Anniversaries (Jan-Jun)" -- Corporate/organization created "holidays" of Japan.