Japanese is not English. And while Japanese can translate into English, it often can’t be used exactly like that translated English. Japanese words having multiple meanings is obvious. But those multiple meanings are not the same multiple meanings as their English counterparts. Simply put: let Japanese be Japanese, let English be English.
Let’s take one of the simplest verbs which you all should know.
飲む (のむ): to drink
Drink is a fairly easy word in English. How much complexity could there actually be in Japanese?
Most people come across のむ’s first deviation in the following sentence.
Literal translation: Drink medicine
Actual meaning: Take medicine
“Take” has a completely different range of uses in Japanese and English. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of Japanese mistakenly say “I drank some medicine” and foreigners incorrectly say “薬を取った.”
But I want to show you how deep it can go, even when it starts off simple. Let’s take a look at the way Japanese also uses のむ.
Literal translation: Drink cigarettes
Actual meaning: Smoke cigarettes
Literal translation: Drink your opponent
Actual meaning: Look down on your opponent
Literal translation: Drunken by the atmosphere of the meeting hall.
Actual meaning: Overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the meeting hall.
Literal translation: Drink the condition.
Actual meaning: Accept the condition.
Literal translation: Drink tears
Actual meaning: Hold back tears
Literal translation: Drink breath
Actual meaning: Hold your breath
What to take out of this?
Keep Japanese and English separate, the way they were meant to be. Yeah, you’ll be using English in the beginning as your first assisting tool. That can’t be helped.
But always remember that the two need their distance. They are not a loving couple.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.