Below is a guest post by David Morris, a teacher of English as a second language who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics. David previously contributed to Strong Language with a post about cunt face in The Sound of Music, and he writes regularly about language and teaching at his blog Never Pure and Rarely Simple.
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At the time I wrote this, I was temporarily in Fukuoka, Japan, applying for a working visa for South Korea. One of my problems there was that I kept seeing strong English words in the middle of ordinary Japanese words.
For some reason ‘Fukuoka’ didn’t set off my ‘strong words’ detector, possibly because I was comparatively used to it, like Phuket, Thailand. On the side of every bus was the word ‘Nishitetsu’, which turns out to be a transport/travel/supermarket/real estate/baseball conglomerate based in Fukuoka. I just couldn’t (and can’t) not see ‘shit’ and/or ‘shite’ every time, probably because I was (and am) just not used to thinking of ‘shi’ as a distinct syllable (despite knowing sushi, Mitsubishi, Hiroshima, etc.). The Japanese syllabification is ‘Na-shi-te-tsu’ (nishi means ‘west’ and tetsu is short for tetsudō, ‘railway’).
Worse, there’s a subway station called ‘Gofukumachi’ (which, fortunately, I didn’t have to get on or off at), and that ‘fuku’ definitely set off my detector, being preceded by ‘go’ and followed by a two syllable element beginning with ‘m’.
The ‘fuku’ of ‘Fukuoka’ appears to mean ‘blessing’ (from Google Translate), but a homonym is ‘clothing’ and a Google search returned many images of Japanese teenaged girls in school uniforms.
And then there is the Momofuku restaurant chain. Wikipedia notes:
“Momofuku” could be translated from Japanese as “lucky peach” [cf ‘blessing’], though Chef David Chang has written that the name is “an indirect nod” to Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor of instant ramen. Chang also suggested it is not an accident he chose a word that sounds like the English curse word “motherfucker”.
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End of David’s post. The image is my addition. I’ve a feeling I saw a post on this topic some months ago, but either my memory has failed me or I’m imagining it. Maybe it was just a tweet. In any case, when I asked about it on Twitter I got this relevant reply:
Other examples, or suggestions for what to call them (profanyms?), would be welcome.