Japanese abbreviated words (略語)





Examples and back ground

Do you know “Pokemon”? and it is not an official name. The official name is “pocket monster” and “pokemon” is  an abbreviated word of it. There are Japanese abbreviated words which are recognized more than the original words. The origin of Japanese abbreviated words are believed to be a telegraphic code. Japanese abbreviated words are also used for nicknames, for example, “Jun Matsumoto” from Arashi is called “Matsujun” and “Takuya kimura” from Smap is “Kimutaku”.

Japanese abbreviated words are mostly recognized in compound nouns, but sometime verbs with foreign verbs and sentences are abbreviated. For example, a abbreviated verb combined with English verb is “dis-ru” (ディスる), disrespect + ru(verb suffix), and “guguru” = “google (verb)”. The former means “insult” (the origin of this word is come from hip-hop culture.) and the latter is “search on web”.

In this blog post, I will describe examples of frequently used Japanese abbreviated words, brief introduction of  Japanese syllable structure, and basic rules (based on some words) for abbreviation in Japanese.

List of frequently used Japanese abbreviated words

Abbreviated wordofficial wordHiragana/katakanameaning
pasokonpersonal computerパソコンpersonal computer
KeitaiKeitai denwaけいたいcellar phone
Kyokashokyoka you toshoきょうかしょtext book
waishatsuwhite shirtsわいしゃつbusiness shirts
tokkyutokubetsu kyuukouとっきゅうa limited express
Karaokekara(empty) orchestraからおけkaraoke
shokupanshushokupanしょくぱんbread in a rectangular shape
eikeneigo kenteiえいけんEnglish proficiency test
homohomo sexualホモhomo sexual
birubuildingビルan office building
kentakkikentakki furaido chikinケンタッキーKFC
konbinikonbiniensu sutoaコンビニconvenience store
dejikamedegitaru kameraデジカメdigital camera
meruadomeru adoresuメルアドmail address

there are many more Japanese abbreviated words. In the future, I will create a nearly full list of Japanese abbreviated words for my project.

Introduction of Japanese syllable structure

Before talking about tendencies or rules of Japanese abbreviated words, let me introduce Japanese syllable structure (Onsetsu) briefly. Japanese is known as a moraic language. Mora is rhythmic units of Japanese. Think about Haiku, haiku is constructed by the 5-7-5 morae. Mora is counted as “haku(拍)”. The kanji of ‘haku’ is also used in “はくしゅ(拍手)a handclap”. Japanese kana is considered as one mora. For example, ‘にほんご’ has 4 morae. One mora is usually constructed by a consonant and a vowel pair[CV which Japanese kana is constructed] and /n/ん is also considered as one mora. When Japanese people import foreign words such as “computer” which has 3 syllables, but when Japanese people say the word, it is /konpuutaa/ = 7morae. This gap causes lots of confusion of katakana for foreign Japanese learners. When I was teaching Japanese, my favorite word for katakana to ask students was “grand canyon”. I was a bit mean to give this word on quiz. lol. Many students write “グランドキャニョン”, “グランドキャノン”, and “グランドキャーノン”. The correct katakana for grand canyon is “グランドキャニオン”. = 8 morae, but 3 syllables.

Japanese people somehow favor 4 morae words (I will research on this), and this tendency explains the structure of Japanese abbreviated words.

Basic rules (more linguistic insights and data are required)

1. foreign compound nouns that each words has 2 or 3 syllables abbreviated to one word combined with first two morae in each word.

For example, mail address, “digital camera” – > ‘degi kame’ , personal computer -> “pasokon”, “pocket monster” -> “pokemon”.

2. Japanese compound nouns or proper nouns which each word has more than 3 morae abbreviated to one word combined with first two morae in each word.

For example, “Kimura Takuya” -> kimutaku. “keitai denwa” -> “keitai”

3. Foreign nouns (compound nouns) more than 4 syllable or morae abbreviated to first word or 2 or 3 syllable (morae) words.

For example, “KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN” -> “kentakkii”, “homo sexual” -> “homo”, building(5 morae) -> ‘biru’. “animation”(6 morae) -> ‘anime’ (3 morae).


There must be more and better rules for Japanese abbreviation rules since the dataset I get is too small to capture the actual rules for Japanese abbreviation system. However, I will keep research on this topic and keep updating.

There are interesting Japanese abbreviated words used frequently in Japanese conversations and writings. Often Japanese native speakers are not aware that the words are abbreviated. So, for non-native Japanese speakers, these words are too hard to understand.

I hope this help you to understand better Japanese abbreviated words. I will keep posting Japanese abbreviated words and creating a complete list of Japanese abbreviated words soon. Next post related to Japanese words would be “why Japanese people like 4 morae words”.