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False friends in Japanese and Chinese


chrix
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Weirdly enough, I was asked about 手紙 and toilet paper recently. I didn't know, so I did some looking, and no dictionary I found lists that as meaning toilet paper. So I searched google images, and found only pictures of letters

I've always assumed that this was a Japanese urban legend, as I'd never heard that word for toilet paper in Chinese, only 衛生紙. I think it was used for toilet paper in some parts of the PRC at one time, but not any more. The image search is very telling - it's obviously not modern usage. So I suppose now it is actually an urban legend.

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  • 1 month later...

掌握 seems to be one in a nuance sense. In Chinese (zhǎng wò) it means to know well or grasp (in the hand, etc.), but in Japanese (shō'aku) it means to grasp or hold power, control, etc. Both have the primary sense of "grasp," but the objects they take seem to differ -- 政権, (人)心 in Japanese; 语言, (自己的)命运 in Chinese.

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风俗 (風俗 in Japanese) is a word that can get you in trouble if you're not careful in Japan. While they do mean the same thing in the dictionary, there is a more modern--or slangish-- meaning in Japanese related to red light districts and all of that business.

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’走‘ in Chinese means 'to walk' but in Japanese this character appears in the verb ’走る’ which means 'to run'. I was fooled pretty badly when I first saw this word in Japanese since I was so convinced that it had the same meaning in both languages. :mrgreen:

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Make that Mandarin. That's the odd one out.

There are a few similar basic words, which are used differently in Mandarin vs other Chinese dialects and have the same meaning in Japanese.

喝, 吃 are used only Mandarin but 飲 (饮) and 食 are used in some other dialects and Japanese - 飲む and 食べる

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  • 2 years later...

I just heard 作戰部隊 in a podcast, which confused me, because in Japanese 作戦 (sakusen) has a primary meaning of "strategy" (in the dictionary with an alternate writing of 策戦). It has the same meaning as in Mandarin too -- "military operations" -- but that doesn't seem to be the way it's most often used. Mandarin only has "military operations" or "fight/battle" as meanings according to the dictionaries.

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  • 7 months later...

Any more examples of false friends in Japanese and Chinese? I find this topic fascinating even though I don't speak Japanese.

Would 汽水 be considered one? In Mandarin it usually means "soft drink", while in Japanese soft drink is 清涼飲料水 (せいりょういんりょうすい, seiryōinryōsui) or ソフトドリンク (sofutodorinku), right?

Moreover, according to Wiktionary, 汽水 in Japanese refers to "brackish water". In Chinese 汽水 can also mean this, though perhaps 半海水 would be more understandable to the layperson?

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