Corona, terminology and translation

Recently, with the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, Japan has adopted new terminology from English language epidemiology, such as “cluster,” “overshoot,” and “lockdown.” These terms were presented to the Japanese people in Katakana language, which is a way of writing foreign words in Japanese. However, the Japanese Ministry of Defence requested a charactisation of these Katakana terms into natural Japanese language. The Katakana term “cluster” became “集団感染” (shuudan kansen), which means “mass infection.” “Overshoot” became “感染爆発” (kansen bakuhatsu), meaning “massive spread of infection,” and “lockdown” became “都市封鎖” (toshi fuusa), meaning “city blockade.” Most Japanese people seem to prefer these new terms written in characters, which are more natural for the Japanese language, over the former Katakana terms written in the alphabet for foreign words.

The reason for the Japanese Ministry of Defence’s request to re-translate the English language epidemiologic terms from Katakana to natural Japanese was due to concerns that their employees might not understand them. As a result, Japanese news providers also switched to using the Japanese-like terms, and the use of Katakana terms decreased.

The author then mentions a Japanese-origin term, “コロナ鍋” (Korona ka), which is widely used in the Japanese media in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the “corona” part of the term is easily understandable, the meaning of the “鍋” (ka – evil) part is less clear in this context and difficult to translate. It is worth noting that this term is not commonly used in English-speaking media.

Observing the different names given to phenomena in different countries is always interesting. In my opinion, these names reflect the attitude towards the phenomenon in question. While the English-speaking media uses terms such as “corona pandemic” and “corona threat” to emphasize that everyone is affected, the Japanese media chooses to emphasize its malevolent nature with the term “Korona ka” which includes the Japanese word for “evil.”

It’s important for everyone to stay safe and out of harm’s way during these challenging times.

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