A translation blip means obligatory chocolate for Japanese men on Valentine’s Day

Since the 1950s, Japanese women have showered the men in their lives with chocolatey gifts on Valentine’s Day, and all because of a tiny translation error made by a Japanese chocolate executive with a zest for Western traditions amidst post-war economic difficulties in Japan.


The Japanese Valentine’s Day Tradition explained…

When a Japanese woman wants to express sincere love for a man in her life, she’ll buy a very special chocolate gift, perhaps one in the shape of a car or a golf ball. She might even buy him a box of rich, creamy chocolates, filled with his favourite liquor.

The strange thing is that in modern-day Japan she must also buy chocolates for the men she couldn’t care less about. Cultural customs in Japan dictate that Japanese women are bound to buy chocolates for all the men that they know, even if they only choose to treat them to a standard, nothing-to-shout-about, chocolate bar on Valentine’s Day – a clear indication, in itself, of a certain lack of regard.

The giving of “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” plays a huge role in Japan’s Valentine’s Day traditions in the 21st century. Chocolate buying and giving is one of the most direct ways in which Japanese women can express their true feelings towards the men in their lives.

Chocolate traditions and blips in translations

Millie Creighton, a UBC professor of Anthropology, devotes part of her time to studying how the Japanese observe holidays. Her research reveals the ways in which the Japanese have incorporated the traditions and customs of Western holidays into their Eastern lives. Part of that research dates back to the 1950s when Valentine’s Day was first introduced to Japan.

Creighton’s discovery shows that an executive from a Japanese chocolate company took the idea of Valentine’s Day from Europe and convinced a number of Japanese department stores to promote the holiday as a way of improving the post-war effects on the Japanese economy. The Japanese executive in question misunderstood the traditions of Valentine’s Day in Europe and, thanks to the blip in his translation, Japan believed that chocolate-giving on Valentine’s Day was a one way affair – women sending chocolate gifts to men.

During the 1950s, Japan was keen to learn about Western traditions and to copy Western cultures. It was a country starved from “luxurious” items available in the West and so when Valentine’s Day first appeared on Japanese soil, there seemed to be no-better product than the Western sweet treat of chocolate for Japanese women to offer to the men that they loved – particularly on a day which was all about celebrating the joys of romantic love.

Modern developments and chocolate obligations

In the early years, chocolate-giving was reserved for the “special man” in the life of the Japanese female. It was treated as an act of romantic love. Since then, the tradition has developed to include “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” – the cultural custom which can be observed in Japan today.

Whether the giving of chocolate to all men seems strange or not, the tradition is loyally followed in Japan every year. Japanese women buy their chocolate gifts based on their feelings towards the men they are buying for and, in return, Japanese men get a very honest idea about what the women in their lives really think of them.

Don’t be a nincompoop!

British English is full of fun and fanciful terms. The phrase, “Don’t be a nincompoop!” is just one prime example.

British termImage courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Nincompoop,” meaning fool or idiot, was traced back to its first usage in the 1670s by Jonson in his Dictionary of 1755. He believed the word to have come from the Latin legal term, “non compos mentis”, which translates to insane or mentally incompetent or not of sound mind. However, there are a number of etymologists who decidedly disagree with this explanation.

For example, some experts believe that “nincompoop” has actually developed from a proper name. Nicodemus, a derivation of Nicholas, has been cited as a possible example, as it was used in the French language to denote a fool.

Another band of etymologists, however, believe that “nincompoop” might simply be an invented word. The Oxford English Dictionary also believes that the origins of the word can be dated back to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and that there were a variety of versions of the word in use, including nicompoop and nickumpoop.

Folk etymology, like the kind John Ciardi from A Browser’s Dictionary uses to dismissively relate “nincompoop” to the Dutch phrase nicht om poep, which means “the female relative of a fool,” might hold some weight. “To poop” is an English verb used today to describe the action of going to the toilet, but in the past it was a verb which meant “to cheat” or “to fool.” This verb probably came from the Dutch verb, “poep”, which means “to shit” or “to fart,” which highlights interesting connections between the many meanings of these verbs.

According to Francis Grose’s slang dictionary of 1785, “nincompoop” has experienced a number of spelling variations. There have been recordings of nickumpoop, nincumpoop, nink-a-poop, ninkompoop, ninkumpupe, ninny-cum-poop. In Grose’s notes, “nincompoop,” regardless of how it is spelt, is the word used to describe someone, “who never saw his wife’s ****,” (the asterisks are printed, exactly as printed here, in Grose’s dictionary). An alternative etymology is offered by a later slang collector, John Camden Hotten, who in 1860 suggested the ‘corruption of ‘non compos mentis’ (not of sound mind).

Despite the uncertainty about the origins of the term, its use has always been pretty clear. “Nincompoop” is either used to refer to a fool or a simpleton. The “nincompoop” is a human being, lacking in intelligence and who flaunts his or her stupidity without shame in front of others. Favourable synonyms of the terms include, jackass, idiot, dunce, imbecile, or moron. Any term used to describe an ignorant simpleton can be replaced with the British phrase, “nincompoop”.

However, there are also a few instances in which “nincompoop” has been used to refer to something other than ignorant stupidity. “Nincompoop” has also been used to mean a suitor who lacks self-confidence and it was used by Thomas Shadwell in his 1672 play entitled, “Epsom Wells,” to refer to a hen-pecked husband.

It’s worth mentioning that “nincompoop” is still regularly used by the British in the 21st century in general conversation. It is used as a soft, teasing term amongst friends and loved ones, for the most part, rather than as a cutting term meant to cause pain to someone else or make them feel uncomfortable. The British love for silly-sounding words is probably one of the most important factors in the longevity of this particular 1670s phrase.


Where does the word Christmas come from?

“Christmas” is an Old English word, constructed from the combination of two words, namely “Christ” and “Mass”. The first recorded Old English version of the phrase, “Crīstesmæsse,” dates back to 1038, but by the Middle Ages the term had already morphed into “Cristemasse;” a slightly more modern version of the phrase.


The origins

The two separate parts of the word can be traced back to Greek, Hebrew and Latin origins. “Christ” comes from the Greek word “Khrīstos” (Χριστός) or “Crīst,” and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Hebrew word “Māšîaḥ” (מָשִׁיחַ) or “Messiah,” which actually means “anointed,” has also played a considerable role in the construction of the first part of the word “Christmas.” The second part most probably comes from the Latin word, “Missa,” which refers directly to the celebration of the Eucharist.

It is also believed that “Christenmas” is an archaic version of the word “Christmas,” whose origins can be attributed to the Middle English phrase, “Cristenmasse,” which when literally translated becomes, “Christian Mass.”

Christmas… the international holiday

Even though “Christian Mass” or “Christ’s Mass” refers to the annual Christian commemoration of the birth Jesus Christ, “Christmas” is an international holiday which, throughout the ages, has been celebrated by non-Christian communities and been referred to via a variety of different names, including the following:

  • Nātiuiteð (nātīvitās in Latin) or “Nativity” means “birth” and has often been used as an alternative to the word “Christmas”
  • The Old English word, Gēola, or “Yule” corresponds to the period of time between December and January and eventually became associated with the Christian festival of “Christmas”
  • “Noel” is an English word which became popular during late 14th century and which is derived from the Old French term “Noël” or “Naël,”  literally translating to “the day of birth”

“Xmas”… modern or ancient?

It’s also worth noting that, even though most people tend to view the abbreviation “Xmas” as a modern bastardisation of the word “Christmas,” “Xmas” is an ancient term and not a grammatically-incorrect modern construction. “X” was regularly used to represent the Greek symbol “chi,” (the first letter of the word “Christ”) and was very popular during Roman Times.

Origin of “It Takes Two to Tango”

The tango is a popular dance in which two partners move in relation to each other. Tango is always danced in couples, and both parts are essential.  “It takes two to tango” is a common idiomatic expression inspired in this intrinsic partnership and is used to describe a situation in which more than one person is paired in an active and complex related manner, with positive and negative connotations.

The phrase “It takes two to tango” first appeared in the song Takes Two To Tango that Al Hoffman and Dick Manning composed in 1952. However, the expression reached top popularity thirty years later, when US President Ronald Reagan used it during a news conference. Since then, “it takes two to tango” expression has made it to the headlines several times.


This common expression can be used to suggest that the active cooperation of two parties is required in some enterprise in order to succeed or accomplish the objectives.

In the same way, it can also be used to refer to the fact that agreements or consensual bargains require both parties to assent in order to be successful.

Quarreling Also Takes Two

Disputes and discussions also need the participation of two parties. Thus, in situations in which both partners don’t agree upon something, we can also say “it takes two to tango”.


Origin of the Word “Futon”

Futons have become an ordinary furniture piece and it is very likely that you are reading this article comfortably seated on one. But, have you ever wondered about the etymological origin of the word?

Western futon

Japanese Origin

English (as well as Spanish) borrowed the word from the Japanese and the Chinese, and it means “round cushions filled with cattail flower spikes”.

A Traditional Japanese Bedding

Futons can be easily found in Japanese homes. They are padded mattresses and quilts that can be plied and stored away during the day so that the room can be used not only as a bedroom. In fact, what we call futons in Japan are combinations of a bottom mattress and a thick quilted bedcover.

Futon Japan

Japanese Futon

The Origin of the Word Chévere

If you have had the chance of spending some time in Venezuela, or Cuba or in any other Caribbean country or if you have watched any Venezuelan soap opera on TV, there are great chances that you have heard at least once the word chévere (meaning good, cool). And in fact it is quite likely that you’ve found yourself saying chévere once and again to locals talking to you while on holidays in the Caribbean. But, have you ever thought about which is the etymological origin of this word?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chevere and Its African Origin

According to some language experts, chévere is a neologism derived from the African language Efik, which was introduced to Cuba at the beginning of the 19th Century by a group of African immigrants that came from Nigeria as slaves. These slaves formed the secret society Abakua and, for over two centuries, they used the word chévere as part of the songs they sang during their public ceremonies. As these songs were made popular in recordings made by popular Cuban artists of the 1950’s such as Cachao and Tito Puente, the word chévere and others from the Efik language started being used in other Caribbean countries, especially in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Colombia.

Popular Versions of the Etymological Origin of “Chévere”

There are quite a few popular versions of the birth of the word chévere. For instance, it is believed that it derives from the name of the General Jacques Francois De Chevert.

The Cuban philologist José Juan Arrom believes that the origin can be traced back to Guillermo de Croy, Lord of Chievres, servant of Charles I and thief who abused of his position when he went to Castile in 1517 with the king, giving birth to the revolution of the Castilian Communities (1520-1521).

`Mina´: One of the Most Popular Words in Lunfardo

If you ever spend a couple of days in Buenos Aires or Montevideo, there are great chances that you will hear at least once the word mina in a conversation and, needless to say, without referring to any kind of military device or to the place where precious metals are extracted.

What kind of mina is everybody talking about?  To begin with, we will mention that in the River Plate area mina has a very distinctive meaning since it is one of the most popular terms used in lunfardo. It is part of everyday language of men and women, both young and old. Generally speaking, mina means “woman”.



Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 Mina: When A Woman is as Precious as a Jewel

Both in Buenos Aires and in Montevideo, the term mina is traditionally used to refer to a beautiful and sexually attractive woman. The origin of this usage can be traced to the 17th and 18th centuries, when Buenos Aires was a Spanish colony, and groups of slaves were brought from Africa. The slaves that came to America from the old Portuguese African fort of San Jorge de la Mina received the name of Minas. The slave women that came from Cape Verde were especially expensive; their very dark skin and exquisite, exotic beauty made them very sought after by men, who employed them in their houses and used them to satisfy sexual favors.  In the 20th century and now in the 21st, mina is still used to talk about a beautiful woman, especially in informal or colloquial conversations.

According to some language experts, this term of lunfardo derives from the clipping of the Italian word femmina and the contraction of the Galician menina. To these origins we can add the metaphoric language used by procurers since the woman with her body brought them money, just as a mine does any time a precious metal is extracted from it.

Mina: Or How to Talk About a Woman in a Pejorative Way

Even though it may seem paradoxical, it is also quite common to find the word mina used to refer to a woman in a pejorative or derogatory way.

This is quite common in everyday dialogues or when somebody is telling a story in which in some way or another a lady intervenes, whether she is beautiful or not.

Mina: A Tango Word

There are many tangos where we can find the word mina, either because a beautiful woman is the main character or because she is the singer’s elusive object of desire.

In this context, language expert Gobello states that it comes from the Italian slang. On the other hand, etymologist Santillán comes up with two complementary points of view. He mentions that, either it is the Castillian voice mina figuratively meaning any profitable activity or business or it derives from the Italian slang of the camorra in which this voice stands for “donna” and “miniera”, which mean young and beautiful prostitute.

It is also worth mentioning that the word mina has additional meanings in the world of tango. Amongst them we can mention: woman, female, prostitute, woman that lives with a man, woman that lives with a man illegally, concubine and lover.

Unveiling the origins of the word “tango”

There is no doubt at all that Argentina, and especially the city of Buenos Aires, are immediately identified with the tango. Since the 1920’s, the tango has been considered one of the most popular and sensual dances in the world and, as years go by, passion for it has grown not only in the River Plate area but all over the world as well. But, what about the etymological origins of the word “tango”? Which cultural and sociological aspects have influenced the origin of this word? Can the roots of “tango” be found and determined or is it a world with a vastly rich origin? Throughout the following paragraphs we will try to unveil the origins of the word “tango”.




Historical Perspective

It is generally agreed by language experts that the etymological origin of the word “tango” cannot be detached from a historic phenomenon: the cultural relationship between Spain and America and the trade of slaves that started coming from Africa around the 1600´s.

According to some historians such as José Gobello and Ricardo Rodríguez Molla, “tango” comes from an African term some slaves used to refer to the place where they were reunited to be sent to America. The Portuguese adopted the Africanism “tangomao” to refer to the man that trafficked slaves. Thus, in America the word “tango” was embraced to name the places where the African slaves got together to dance and sing. Buenos Aires was a very important slave market in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s and, therefore, the African population definitely had a significant influence in the birth of the term “tango”.

The Beating of the Drum

Other language theory relates the etymological origin of the word “tango” to the onomatopoeic sound of the beating of the drums as, apparently, the drum was one of the musical instruments used in the beginnings of this dance.

However, this theory is widely rejected by experts as it has been proved that the drum was never used to play tango music. In fact, the first musical instruments for this dance were: the flute, the viola, the violin and, later on, the bandoneon.

Latin Origin

Another language theory supports the idea that the word “tango” derives from the Latin term “tanguere”, which stands for “to touch”. Language experts that agree with this idea base their findings on the fact that tango as a dance is characterized by the sensuality and closeness with which the couple move across the dance floor.

Yet, from an etymological point of view this idea cannot be accepted since, in its beginnings, tango dancers did not dance so close to each other.

Final Words

We have discussed the three most important theories regarding the etymological birth of the word “tango”. Only the first one can be considered valid as the other two are more far-fetched and cannot be traced back to actual facts to support them.

Anyway, whether “tango” derives from the place where the African population in the River Plate met to dance, talk and sing or from the onomatopoeic beating of the drums or a Latin word, it cannot be denied that tango is one of the most enjoyable dances in the word.

The meaning of ‘junar’

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect. Add a dash of Argentine flavor to your Spanish vocabulary with the Transpanish blog’s ongoing feature highlighting some of the most frequently used terms in Lunfardo.

A popular lunfardo term is junar, a verb that is believed to have derived from the Romani language Caló of Spain and Portugal.   In this language, which has inspired many other lunfardo terms, junar means “to listen”. In modern use, though, the meaning has changed.

The first meaning may be described as “to watch” or “look”, although it is more specific than mirar or ver.  That is, junar is to look at someone in a roguish or even leering way.  Oftentimes, it can be used to describe a person’s excessively obvious/aggressive “romantic” gaze, e.g. Él te está junando “He is leering at you”.  Although it refers to a manner of looking in a specific time and space, it can also occasionally have implications beyond the particular instance.

The second meaning is basically synonymous with conocer, which also has a dual meaning—“to meet” or “to know”—though junar more closely compares to the later.  It can translate very directly to conocer in an example such as ¿Junás a María?
“Do you know María?” or less so in another, ¿Quién la juna a María?, which is a rather pejorative way to say that nobody knows María, or that she’s not worth knowing.

The third meaning may be considered a sort of extension of the first and second meanings.  That is, junar can be used both positivity and negatively with reference to a more essential characteristic or intention of a person—a characteristic beyond what is immediately, physically perceivable (e.g. a person’s manner of looking at).   A close common Spanish equivalent here might be a combination of conocer and entender.  Although it has a wider range of use than the first meaning, it commonly relates to romantic situations, e.g. La juna por la infidelidad “He/she knows she is unfaithful”.

It’s interesting to consider, first, how junar of lunfardo changed from the original form of “to listen” from Caló, and second, how the contemporary lunfardo meaning severed.  At what point did the division between listening and seeing begin to blur, or, was the change less organic, i.e. did the initial rioplantense user of it simply decide to do so in this new manner? Finally, the dual lunfardo meaning raises the question: at what point does a physical characteristic, such as a manner of looking at someone, become more than physical—that is, essential of a person?

The word junar turns up in the lyrics of the tango “Atenti Pebeta” by Ciciarco Ortiz and Celedonio Flores.

Cuando estés en la vereda y te fiche un bacanazo,
vos hacete la chitrula y no te le deschavés;
que no manye que estás lista al primer tiro de lazo
y que por un par de leones bien planchados te perdés.

Cuando vengas para el centro, caminá junando el suelo,
arrastrando los fanguyos y arrimada a la pared,
como si ya no tuvieras ilusiones ni consuelo,
pues, si no, dicen los giles que te han echao a perder.

Si ves unos guantes patito, ¡rajales!;
a un par de polainas, ¡rajales también!
A esos sobretodos con catorce ojales
no les des bolilla, porque 1e perdés;
a esos bigotitos de catorce líneas
que en vez de bigote son un espinel…
¡atenti, pebeta!, seguí mi consejo:
yo soy zorro viejo y te quiero bien.

Abajate la pollera por donde nace el tobillo,dejate crecer el pelo y un buen rodete lucí,
comprate un corsé de fierro con remaches y tornillos
y dale el olivo al polvo, a la crema y al carmín.Tomá leche con vainillas o chocolate con churros,
aunque estés en el momento propiamente del vermut.
Después comprate un bufoso y, cachando al primer turro,
por amores contrariados le hacés perder la salud.

The origin of “troll”

For most English speakers, the word troll, out of context, most commonly registers as a noun, perhaps due to the striking imagery it elicits.  Cue short, hideous monster-men hiding under a bridge, waiting to capture unknowing passersby.  The horror of this imagery is no doubt why the word most strikes us in this manner—as a noun— but the specificity of it contributes too.  That is, as a contemporary noun, troll’s imagery does not vary, although historically it has.

For instance, in the early to mid nineteenth century, troll (along with its alternate spelling, trowl) was a sort of drinking song that could be repeated indefinitely.  Even earlier (1570-1670), it was used to describe a wheel.  The connection between these two meanings is not a difficult for one to discern.  Save that they were used in England, the etymological origin of these varieties is unclear, which perhaps contributed to their diminished use and eventual obsolescence.

The surviving meaning, though, has clearer roots.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes troll as: “One of a race of supernatural beings formerly conceived as giants, now, in Denmark and Sweden, as dwarfs or imps, supposed to inhabit caves or subterranean dwellings.”  Early Scandinavian mythology has survived much like Greek mythology, and today transcends many languages and disciplines.  But of course, like with any language, some words simple do not translate.  The noun troll, it seems, is one such example.

Poster of Troll Movie

However, in contemporary context, troll is most commonly used as a verb.  This use likely originates from the Old French troller, a hunting term: “to quest, to go in quest of game, without purpose”.  Subsequent adapted use in Old English stripped the hunting imagery from the term, so that it could be applied to any sort of directionless rambling or movement.

Although Modern English has retained the traditional use in some cases (e.g. “to troll for fish”), it has also adapted it in an interesting manner that seems to incorporate the noun troll as well.  That is, to troll, in Internet speak, or to post deliberately antagonistic messages on chat boards or other forums, without any discernable goal besides disruption.  In this use, we have both the lack of direction and purpose, as well as the scary imagery of a troll, for such troll messages (or trolling) are often intentionally offensive and vicious.  In the same manner a troll a bridge snatches up victims, or a hunter or fisherman trolls for any and all game, so too are Internet trolls indiscriminate.

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