Katakana technical terms to watch out for

The Japanese katakana syllabary is commonly used for English loanwords, and figuring out the meaning of a katakana technical term like ポリマー (polymer) is usually straightforward. However, some katakana terms bear a deceptive resemblance to an English term but actually mean something else. In French, such deceptive terms are called faux amis (false friends). The following are some katakana faux amis that technical translators need to watch out for.

  • コンデンサ should almost always be translated as capacitor (not condenser)
  • マイコン should almost always be translated as microcontroller (not microcomputer, which is an obsolete term from the 1970s)
  • 文字コード should almost always be translated as character encoding (for example, ASCII or UTF-8), not character code
  • シリコン is usually silicon, but could be silicone (make sure you know the difference!)
  • スマート usually means slim (not smart)
  • ダイアログ means dialog box in a GUI (the box part is often omitted)
  • タイミング is often better translated as when to, not timing
  • ハンドル often means steering wheel, not handle