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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

English: A Rose By Any Other Name - Commentary

I read an article in The Japan News on September 12, 2017 that decried how English used by Americans is different from that used by the Brits.

 Read the commentary HERE.

I have no idea WHY it was presented in The Japan Times, as it didn't really reference Japan.

But let's pretend it does.

English in Japan CAN be confusing for some owing to the wide range of slang or even how certain words mean different things to even native English speakers.

Heck... I have what is known as a neutral English accent, without accent. When I left Japan, my replacement was from Scotland. Can you imagine my students learning English from someone where the natural English has a Scottish accent and the "r's" are rolled.

There's no hard "r" sound in the Japanese language... as the alphabets: ra, ri, ru, re, ro and ryu sounds, for example, are softer and nothing like what an 'R' sounds like throughout North America.

In The Japan Times article, while the commentary itself is extremely weak in my opinion, offering such LOCALIZED terms as “skee-ball” from New Jersey, “funnel cake” from the eastern U.S. and Canada (Canada wasn’t mentioned, but I know of it), and even water ice, which is that Italian ice treat that I’ve never had, but I assume it’s like a Lola (flavored chunk of ice) that I used to have as a kid in Canada.
These are called by the brand name of "Icebergs". I suppose the Lola brand name is dead. Just like my friend's grandmother. See below.
Regarding skee-ball… I’m sure most people have played the game in North America, but have no idea what the game is even called, nor do they even care.

The only important thing to note when describing terms to the Japanese, is that there IS a big difference between water ice and ice water (water with ice in it).

Heck… water ice is actually a localized New Jersey term… not necessarily heard anywhere else.

I don’t see how water ice is flavored ice/Italian ice. Is it water or is it ice? I didn’t even take into account an Italian-American New Jersey accent when pronouncing water ice. Maybe the folks from New Jersey need to fuhgeddaboudit (forget about it).

Of course, “lola” is also what my Filipino buds growing up used to call their “grandma”.

Ehhh, yo! It's Ice, Flavored/Flavoured Ice, water ice or Italian Ice. This image is from, and is considered Nashville's favorite Italian ice. Take that "Joisey".
The article says that people in the UK would never know such North American terms. Sure.

I bet a lot of Americans and Canadians et al wouldn’t know some of those terms.

To be fair, the article also points to some British terminology such as “shore” or “seashore”, which d’uh means the “beach” for us colonials, and something called crazy golf… which is what we North Americans know as miniature golf.

Big frickin’ whoop.

How often are ANY of these terms going to come up in a classroom in Japan? Once? Ever?

The article also mentions UK candy floss - which is cotton candy… but I’m pretty sure us westerners know both meanings.

The point of the article, while not specific to Japan, was meant to show language differences between the US and UK, and not necessarily how it is presented in Japan… and so I am confused as to why it is presented in The Japan Times.

What the article FAILS to point out are classic word differences such as “chips” in the UK, which are what North Americans call French Fries.

Potato chips or chips in the west are known as “crisps” in the UK.

Crisps is nothing in particular in the West, but we do enjoy crispy foods.

That might be confusing… but the Japanese know what French Fries are… or certainly what fries are, owing to the proliferation of American fast food restaurants, and a decided lack of British fish and chips shops. That’s also why many people know that “chips” are UK “fries”.

American spelling of certain words is also different from the UK. Canada shares its spelling with the UK.

There’s the obvious UK inclusion of a “u” in such word as “humor”, “colour”, and “neighbourhood”. Then there’s weird spellings of the color grey/gray or theater/theatre and even defense/defence.

I believe that a long time ago, in order to save ink and space in newspapers and magazines, American printers got together and decided to omit the British “u” in words.

I don’t believe it was done maliciously after the American Revolution, but by doing so, the American English language became an entity unto itself.

I tend to use the “American spelling in this blog and others only because I have more American readers (and friends) than I do UK or Canadian.

In Japan, I am pretty sure that their English-language books use Americanized spellings et al (I thought I’d toss in some Latin there).

What does it mean for Japan (and why else, I repeat, is this commentary in The Japan News?

Not much.

It’s “much ado about nothing”… the title also of my favorite William Shakespeare play. Heck… we didn’t even talk about archaic English words or terms or spellings.

The fact that UK people were unaware of some North American terms is nothing to worry about.

It certainly doesn’t make one culture appear stupid relative to the other.

In fact… usage of the terms specifically listed in the article are quite banal.

Skee-ball? Yeah… it is something you pretty much only see at kiddie arcades or at fairs/exhibitions where it’s not all rides. I wonder if skee-ball is called by other terms relative to its location in North America?

I’d be curious to hear how and why ANY of terms used as points of confusion in the article were even uttered in Japan.

Heck... I think there's even a difference in the usage in North America and the UK with the terms "millions" and "billions", and just what the heck the "first floor" of a building really is. But I'm not going there.

In Japan, there are many instances where they use English terms to describe Japanese things… words that can confuse native English speakers.

I’m NOT talking about such katakana Japanese terms like “see-ta” or “aakeido”… go on think about it… those are “sweater” and “arcade”. For you Brits, a sweater isn’t just a portly guy in an un-airconditioned bar having his 10th pint without food… no… a sweater is a “jumper”.

Air-conditioning in Japan, by the way, IS known as "ea-kon". Even using "english" alphabets, it looks impossible to understand!

When I first heard those katakana words meant to SOUND like the English equivalent I had no idea what the heck the Japanese were talking about.

Rather, I am talking about such terms as “sea chicken”.

This IS my favorite Japanese term… pronounced as “shi-chikan”.

The Japanese said they loved to eat this food… something that until recently (as of 1990), they had not eaten much of before.

It was explained that when it comes to such cuisine as tuna, the Japanese only used to eat red meat of the fish.

The white meat was considered “garbage”.

For anyone NOT Japanese, red tuna meat was an expensive delicacy eaten by only the brave, as it was usually raw and placed within sushi or sashimi.

So… when the Japanese finally got into eating the white tuna meat, it was given the strange name of “sea chicken”.

Now… this is where the Brits et al might get confused, as I am unsure if you guys have ever come across this…

In North America (not necessarily including Mexico), we have a brand of canned/tinned white tuna fish called Chicken Of The Sea.

I can still recall the commercials from the 1970s: What’s the best tuna? Chicken of the sea!”

Chicken of the sea… sea chicken… shi-chikan. I'm not even sure if this is a widely-known term in Japan... but for one afternoon in 1990, it managed to kill an  entire English lesson. 

And... this is why the English language is screwy. Not because of skee-ball.

Andrew “ice water in his veins means something different” Joseph

PS: Happy birthday.
 PPS: Image at top of blog from


  1. Lol ... you're right ... I never knew "that arcade game where you roll the wooden ball up the ramp into the holes for points" was called skee-ball. I, too, have a neutral (American) english accent and am always amazed when someone with a deep southern twang (think Texas) looks me straight in the eyes and says, "You speak English very well without an accent." Hmmm ...

    Here's an interesting language question (at least to my family) -- do you say "on accident" or "by accident"?

    Wedding is over and I secretly harbor thoughts of becoming a Lola. There, I admitted it. Life is short. This will be my first day back to work after being out for a week and a half. Ever see that movie "Broadcast News" with Holly Hunter? I start my day just like she does so I can solve everybody else's problems. I feel it's going to be crazy ...

    P.S. Thank you.

    1. By accident. Never "on accident"... though the best way to say something would be: It was done/I did it accidentally.
      By accident is an accepted slang way here (at least in TO), but I've never come across a time when I would ever say "on accident." I can't even think of one now...
      You speak English very well... wow. Forget the "without and accent" part. wow.
      I would have assumed your State is neutral re: accent, unlike say Illinois or Texas. Ash (from this blog) was from Georgia... and her accent only came out when she was excited or had a drink... otherwise neutral. I never did ask if it was put on, or if it was real and the south escaped when unwary...
      I have LONG been fascinated with accents in the US. If people came to the US as immigrants - mostly from France, Britain and Germany... how did a drawl or a twang develop... and develop enough that it is considered the de facto norm in that area? Creole/bayou - I understand because of the mix of cultures. But even Bohhhstan or Brooklynese or Joisey? Why did an entire area pick up the accent in a State? It's all very interesting... why is it acceptable to say the word "wash" as "worsh"? Turtle or toitle? All of you/y'all? WHEN did these accents come into vogue? All our cowboy movies have people talking like John Wayne... did they really? How would we know? I'z 'pect thut wryyyy-ters like Mark Twain/Samuel Clemons would have captured the accents perfectly... is that what we base our knowledge of accents on - writers?
      Lola... as long as it's not the Kinks-version. Though there's nothing wrong with that, grandma.

    2. -- Turns out that language is changing as we speak (ha, ha) and "by accident" may be phased out for "on accident" in the next generation. Interesting, right? I have been reading "on accident" and hearing it more, and I was sure it was wrong. But the younger ones have told me they hear both used about 50/50. Seems strange to me.

    3. I still haven't heard the on accident thing... but could it be a regional thing? Your State vs my Province? We haven't been corrupted yet, because there's an opioid crisis with kids dying on accident. Naw... see... its sounds like someone was trying to be cool, and instead gave an epic fail. Perhaps it became wide spread by accident - see much better. Some things shouldn't be altered just because it can. People need to learn that. Hmmm... do you think 'on accident' may have been created because we say 'on purpose' and NOT 'by purpose'? Oh my god... probably.