In Japanese, “boxing” is translated from English as “ボクシング” or “bokushingu.”
It’s just a poorly-transliterated version of the English word, and saying it in a sentence can at times make one feel like they’re doing some sort of 1950’s racist Japanese accent as a joke.
And it’s far — FAR — from the only English loanword used in Japanese.
In fact, it’s becoming more and more of a joke how many pieces of English from the business world, fashion industry, and pop culture have leaked into and continue to expand the Japanese language.
Some are rather straight forward, such as in the case of food. “Hamburger” becomes “hamubagaa” and “pizza” becomes “piza.”
These words did not exist in Japan before because until these foods arrived from America, it didn’t exist here. The same can be said for company-focused words like “business conference,” “presentation,” and “power harassment.”
Obviously things like this jargon have existed in Japan for as long as people have owned businesses, but the modern conceptions of these words are relatively new and distinctly Western in their mindset. So, the Japanese took them. (“Power harassment” is “pawahara.”)
However, there’s a different kind of loanword that at times I don’t care about, and at other times troubles me a bit: English loanwords overtaking and replacing words that already existed in the Japanese language.
Take boxing, for example.
Nowadays, bokushingu is almost exclusively used for the sport. But did you know that Japanese had an original word for boxing and prizefighting before bokushingu became popular as a word?
It’s “拳闘,” or “kentou.”
拳 is the kanji for “fist,” and 闘 is the character for “fight.” It’s a “fistfight!”
How much better of a word is that? It’s native to the Japanese language — meaning that it phonetically fits in and doesn’t stick out like the cumbersome “bokushingu.” It doesn’t bastardize any pre-existing word, and doesn’t negatively affect those learning English’s pronunciation.
Finally, it’s just aesthetically more pleasing!
Look at the meaning and history packed into the two simple kanji in 拳闘 compared to the emotionless, sterile katakana of ボクシング . It hits the eyes harder, conveys more information quicker, and builds a mental image in the reader. It’s punchier, pun intended.
This isn’t meant to be a doctoral dissertation on language preservation. Clearly there is value in the adoption of loanwords into Japanese, or else no one would be doing it. And an English-speaker complaining about the adoption of loanwords is rather hilarious in and of itself.
However, I hope that anyone who reads this and studies Japanese might begin to think twice about what it means to insert a katakana-ized English word into a sentence when there are known and more meaningful alternatives that express ideas native to the language.
(P.S. I romanized the Japanese off-the-cuff for this article. Actual romanizations of these Japanese words might be spelled slightly differently. Sorry!)