From sanga to sando, the short and sweet commonality between Australian English and Japanese

Hi, I’m A, one of North Star Language Services translators.
Did you know that Australian English and Japanese share a particular linguistic feature? Let’s explore it together today!

Although Australian English and Japanese couldn’t be further apart, you might be surprised to find out that they have something in common. Speakers of Japanese tend to use many abbreviated words. Whether it’s shortening the rather long New Year’s greeting: “akemashita omedeto gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” to “akeome, kotoyoro” or using the Latin alphabet in creative ways, such as “W” to mean double (daburu), they are masters at taking short-cuts in their language. Do you know who else is a master at shortening their language? It’s all in their name: Aussies.

Abbreviations and contracted words may have a place in most languages, but they are especially prevalent in Japanese and Australian English, where abbreviations have become part of everyday vernacular. Look at the word “selfie,” which started as an Australian English abbreviation but is now used across the globe. This distinctive linguistic feature has both time (and space) saving qualities and tonal qualities, adding a casual friendliness to speech.

If you travel to Japan, you may encounter an example of this abbreviated language when browsing the shelves of immaculately packaged sweets and snacks at a souvenir store. Among the salty chips and sweet chocolates are some packages labelled as “sand.” On closer inspection, they seem to be packets of biscuits—not bags of sand. “Sando,” sometimes written as “sand” in the Latin alphabet, is how “sandwich” is abbreviated in Japanese. In this case, “sand” would be referring to sandwich biscuits. Australian English also has its own abbreviation for “sandwich”: “sanga.”

The Japanese writing system naturally lends itself to abbreviations because, along with two syllabaries—hiragana and katakana—it’s made up of kanji (characters of Chinese origin), which are similar to pictures and hold more meaning than your humble alphabet letter. Often, whole phrases can be abbreviated by just keeping the first character of each word. For example, “shukatsu” (job hunting), which is a shortened version of “shushoku katsudo” (就職活動=就活). This is not to say that Japanese abbreviations are limited to contracted kanji words, either. Pokémon is an example of a contracted katakana word, the original being “Poketto Monsuta” (pocket monster(s)).

Australian English doesn’t have kanji characters that it can rely on to convey meaning. Generally, words are abbreviated by taking the first part of a word and adding an ending such as a, o, ie or y. For example, chocolate becomes “chockie,” biscuit becomes “bickie,” so chocolate biscuit becomes “chockie bickie.” These are all relatively straightforward, but some abbreviations take more imagination. For example, an electrician is known as a “sparkie” because electricity gives off sparks. A carpenter is known as a “chippie” because they often produce wood chips in their line of trade.

Australian English abbreviations can sound somewhat childish due to the added endings, but that’s all part of the intention. In Australian culture, it’s important to present yourself as someone down-to-earth, friendly and relaxed. Australians famously frown upon people who give off a sense of superiority or brag about their accomplishments. In this sense, the Aussie abbreviated way of speaking is a cultural expression that gives off a sense of casualness and friendliness.

The Japanese style of abbreviations often appears as a matter of efficiency and exists thanks to the unique quality of the Japanese writing system. It’s also important to be aware that the Japanese language has strict rules regarding levels of respect and politeness, so these shortened words are not always appropriate depending on the situation. The Australian style of abbreviations is a unique cultural expression and can be used in most situations. This is one of the many examples of why translation is not just about understanding grammar and vocabulary. As translators, we must also have cultural knowledge to produce precise messages across various cultures.


JSTOR Daily, “Small Poppy Syndrome: Why are Australians so Obsessed With Nicknaming Things?”, February 7th, 2018.

The Gardian, “Selfie: Australian slang term named international word of the year”, November 19th, 2013. “Quirks of Japanese: Contractions and Abbreviations”, February 10th, 2020.

Have you ever wanted to take revenge on a café? Let’s explore some of Japan’s curious home-grown English terms.

Hi, I’m A, one of North Star Language Services translators. Today, I’ll introduce you to some interesting Japanese-made English terms I’ve encountered while living in Japan.

Like any language, Japanese has its fair share of loanwords. These are called gairaigo but are colloquially known as katakana words because some katakana magic is used to induct them into the Japanese lexicon (katakana is part of the Japanese writing system, used for loanwords, among other things).

Designed by: Freepik

I clearly remember coming across the katakana word for McDonald’s in the early days of my Japanese language studies. When someone asked me to guess the meaning behind makudonarudo, I was stumped. I wasn’t even sure if it was Japanese at first, let alone the name of one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world.

Although katakana words can be both a blessing and a curse if you speak the original language they come from—they’re generally easy to understand at first glance, but the pronunciation can trip you up—another category of words takes this to a whole new level.

Designed by: Freepik

Allow me to introduce wasei-eigo. Translated directly, this concept can be understood as “Japanese-made English.” Think Japanese pseudo-anglicisms. Wasei-eigo takes English words or phrases, adds some katakana magic and creates an entirely new usage—sometimes even throwing some Japanese into the mix, because why not? They can be a little mind-boggling but also quite fun to learn about. In this post, I’ll introduce three wasei-eigo terms: revenge, bubbly and oyagi gag. Can you guess what they mean? Read on to find out.

Revenge (ribenji)

Designed by: storyset / Source: Freepik

The first time I came across this word, I was a little scared. My friend said she would seek revenge on a café because it wasn’t open the day she visited. As I listened to her plotting away, I felt like she was perhaps overreacting—or maybe I had misjudged her character entirely!

“Revenge” in English brings up negative images of getting payback against someone who has wronged you. However, the wasei-eigo version of the word means to give something another shot.

In this sense, the café has not been set alight as it might have in a typical revenge situation. Instead, it continues to make a happy trade, and my friend finally got to eat the café’s tasty pancakes.

Bubbly (baburi)

Designed by: storyset / Source: Freepik

In English, “bubbly” is an adjective that can refer to someone cheerful and high-spirited.

In contrast, the wasei-ego version of “bubbly” takes on a less complimentary image, referring to someone who is a big spender and not afraid to flaunt it—someone who’s a little flashy.

This harks back to the economic mood of the 1980s in Japan when everything was going gangbusters before the price bubble burst. Here are some extra wasei-eigo words as a bonus: bubble jidai: bubble era, bubble keiki: bubble economy (of Japan: 1986-1991).

Oyaji gag (oyaji gyagu)

Designed by: storyset / Source: Freepik

This wasei-eigo word combines English and Japanese words. “Oyaji” means old man or dad, and “gag” is used here to mean joke. Can you see what this one is getting at? Yep, it’s the classic dad joke—those groan-inducing, heavily pun-reliant jokes that your dad or an embarrassing uncle might whip out from time to time. These kinds of jokes exist in Japan, too!

Today, we learned about three wasei-eigo words, but this is by no means an extensive list.

The nuanced usage of these words across English and Japanese is one of the many reasons why the cultural knowledge provided by writing professionals is crucial in delivering the right message to the right audience. There are plenty more gems to uncover, so keep an eye out on our homepage for similar linguistic adventures!

Recent Project—UPOPOY: The Complete Guide

We’re proud to announce the recent publication of our English translation of UPOPOY: The Complete Guide (edited by The Hokkaido Shimbun Press). This guidebook covers everything there is to know about Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, a facility in Shiraoi, Hokkaido that offers visitors the chance to experience and learn all about Ainu culture and history.

When we translated the guidebook, we were careful to select words and phrases that weren’t too technical so even people who are new to Ainu culture can enjoy reading it. The content for this project—Ainu culture, language, history and spirituality—is incredibly complex, so a translation of this level was no mean feat. We were able to successfully complete it with the support of the Upopoy Ainu Language Team and the team at the National Ainu Museum, who offered indispensable advice and proofreading.

At North Star Language Services, our professional translators and checkers utilize their wealth of experience to deliver translations tailored perfectly to get your message across. Thinking about having something translated? Feel free to contact us today!

Sold by: The Hokkaido Shimbun Press

Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park:



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