When The Word You’re Searching For Isn’t In The Dictionary
Online dictionaries are great. Easy to use, ever expanding vocabulary, and a wide range to choose from to meet your needs. However they don’t have everything. Language is too fast for them to keep up, and a lot of language just never makes their way into them.
So what do you do when you get the dreaded “no results found” in your dictionary of choice?
Pull up Google Japan and enter one of the following three:
Adding とは is an abbreviated way that Japanese people use to say what does (word) mean.
This is the most common way, and it may either bring up a site that that has the word defined or a discussion thread like Yahoo Answers (Yahoo知恵袋 in Japan) where someone provides a meaning.
2. Word 意味
意味 or “meaning” will bring up similar (but sometimes different) results to とは.
3. Word 語源
語源 or “word origin” will often bring up the word meaning plus a deeper explanation behind it. When you want a bit more of a background behind the word, this can come in handy.
This should handle 98% of your troubles.
What’s great about Google is even when you may have mistyped the word, which an online dictionary wouldn’t be able to spot, Google will offer you a correction option.
Have any other ways in which you deal with words not in the dictionary?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
This is a super handy technique. And wow I wasn’t even aware of that third one, nice :)
For those who haven’t tried this yet, the first time you google something in Japanese and are able to understand the answer you find is a pretty great moment. Give it a shot sometime!
The third one can be a lot of fun because sometimes knowing the origin of the word as well can open a massive window behind the culture.
Very useful article
Thanks James! Hope it helped.
I often use とは and 意味 when searching for definitions, but wasn’t aware of 語源. Sounds like a great way to gain real depth of knowledge. Two websites that go into good detail about the roots of expressions are:
http://zokugo-dict.com/ for slang terms, and
http://kotowaza-allguide.com/ for idioms and 四字熟語.
For technical words, often compounds of two or more existing words, the first line or two from the Japanese Wikipedia page can provide a succinct and usable definition. The online dictionary Weblio often contains excerpts from Wikipedia pages, as well as plenty of example sentences if you look in the 英語例文 section.
Great additional resources!
I’m a big fan of the kotowaza site as it lets you pick up some really “deep” Japanese.
I also like the gogen site which looks like it is a sister site of the kotowaza one.