Why is Toyoda Toyota?

Since I have a grasp of Japanese, people keep asking me why Toyota has a CEO named Akio Toyoda (who's the grandson of the founder of the company), because his name is spelled with a "d" instead of a "t". Here's the Japanese version of his name: 豊田章男 (Japan puts last names first, so it reads "Toyoda Akio").

Here's what's interesting: The first kanji 豊 is "toyo", which is one of the Japanese (kun) readings (as opposed to the Chinese "on" readings). But the second kanji is 田 "ta". It becomes "da" in the name because of lenition. An English version of such a sound change is when we say "waiter" like "waider": we pronounce the "t" like a "d" before the "er". So in Japanese the same thing happens: after certain sounds, the "t" becomes a "d".

So really, the name "Toyota" is a raw pronunciation of the founder's name. And what's even more interesting is what the Washington Post found out:
Writing "Toyoda" in Japanese requires 10 brush strokes...but writing "Toyota" requires eight..."Ten" consists of two strokes crossed against each other and resembles the "plus" symbol, or even a crossroads or an uncertain path. Not a good omen for a company.
And, according to the Detroit Free Press:
The number eight is considered good luck in Japan because of the way it is written: two strokes side by side, placed so that the character resembles an open mountain top.
So let's compare: this is 10 in Japanese: 十 and this is 8 in Japanese: 八

In Japanese, they decided to write the company's name in katakana instead of kanji, so "Toyoda" looks like トヨダ (10 strokes) and "Toyota looks like トヨタ (8 strokes). They decided on the latter.

What the Free Press gets wrong, however, is saying that the hard "t" sound is "softer" than the "d" sound. Even in English, "d" is softer than "t".

Well after I wrote all this, I decided to check out the popular Language Log (where linguists post, not simple language lovers like me), and saw that they discussed the topic in way more depth, including refuting what the newspapers reported.

So here's my obvious conclusion: it's ironic that they went to all that trouble to switch from "Toyoda" to "Toyota" because Americans pronounce it "Toyoda" anyway!


What I'm trying to read

In Japanese class, we were reading part of the book 盛田昭夫語録 [Morita Akio Sayings], which is about Akio Morita, who cofounded Sony. We read part of the sixth chapter 父を語る(盛田英夫) [Talking about Father (Morita Hideo)], where his son, Hideo, talks about growing up with his dad. Now I'm re-reading what we studied in class so that I can translate part of it to post here. So stay tuned...you'll find out in English what Akio Morita was like, at least from the perspective of his son.


Is Corporatese Truly "Value-Added"?

"Vision-Makers specializes in developing strategic solutions that take your company to the next level. Our mission is to become your turnkey partner for all your business performance and incentive needs; thereby helping you realize success. The focus on integrated business strategies that promote organizational growth through maximizing customer and employee performance. Through the power of incentives, we strive to create positive & measurable results. We offer a portfolio of quality products and services, which are distinguished by integrity, innovation and differentiation through teamwork. In today's increasingly complex marketplace, we understand that one principal stands apart from the rest. RELATIONSHIPS DRIVE BUSINESS."

This mission statement is the first page of a brochure issued by Vision-Makers of Marietta, Georgia, USA. Upon reading that, can you pinpoint exactly what Vision-Makers does or offers? I was not familiar with the company before reading that statement and, after reading that, had no idea as to what the company actually does. A "strategic solution" could be anything from the acquisition of new computer equipment to the acquisition of a new type of office toilet paper. "Integrated business strategies" could refer to scheduling meetings or choosing the best sandwich shop when ordering lunch for office staff. "Incentives" could be raises, opportunities for career development, days off, in-office massages, or gourmet coffee. "Quality products and services" does not specify the type of products or services (Whoopie cushions? Singing telegrams? Computer software? Employee placement?), the level of quality, or the standards for determining "good" or "bad quality." "RELATIONSHIPS DRIVE BUSINESS"? That states nothing but the obvious, since it would be difficult to transact business without a professional relationship of some sort with another party unless you enjoy doing business with yourself. And what exactly is a "turnkey partner"?

A perusal of the company website reveals further mystifying turns of phrase, such as "EmployeeExcite™ can do it all …with measurable results." The first part of the phrase, "can do it all" is simply false advertising, unless EmployeeExcite™ can fly to Jupiter, cure all ills, and develop calorie-free chocolate. And the second part, "with measurable results" is essentially meaningless since all, or at least nearly all, results of any kind are measurable, even if the measurement is zero. The same page exuberantly boasts "Customizable Turnkey Solutions…Right out of the Box!!!!!" Huh? What does this mean in concrete terms?

Many of us who have worked in nearly any capacity with a variety of corporations have encountered this impressive-sounding, but essentially vacuous lingo. Ambiguous phrases such as "leverage," "forward-thinking," and "value-added," which sound focused, professional, and assertive but are far from specific when deconstructed, are widely used these days in white-collar industries. There is, in fact, a name for this phenomenon: "Corporatese." Wikipedia defines Corporatese rather disturbingly as such: "Closely related to Politically correct phraseology and George Orwell's concept of Newspeak, Corporatese is corporate jargon characterized by sometimes unwieldy elaborations of common English phrases. It may dramatize or conceal the real meaning of what is being said."

Not everyone has been hoodwinked by Corporatese. For instance, the poll What's the Most Annoying Corporate Catchphrase shows "Give it 110%" winning so far (for the record, I voted for "leverage"). And I suspect that, the more these empty terms and phrases are used, the more cliched they will become and perhaps actually backfire, reflecting negatively upon the professionals who use them.

Wikipedia has compiled a list of examples of Corporatese and other illustrations of Corporate Jargon. I suspect that you will recognize a number of these terms.

My thanks to Ms. Liz Hunyadi for suggesting the topic of this post.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Video of Queen Elizabeth about Diana's death

I just watched the movie The Queen on TV, which I already saw in the theater when it first came out, and I still think it's excellent. If you haven't seen it, you should. In the movie, there is a dramatization of the Queen speaking about Diana's death on TV, and below is the original broadcast of that speech.


Do not buy a video or DVD player from JVC!

In case you're looking for a video and DVD player and recorder, do NOT buy anything from JVC. Just after the one-year warranty expired, our video/DVD player/recorder broke, and when we called JVC, they didn't care. They just told us to pay to get it repaired.

No wonder they don't offer any extended warranties: they probably figure it's better to sell inferior quality products, have them break down, and then make us pay to get them fixed, which means more money for them. Some people don't think it's worth it to pay to get something fixed, so they just buy a new one. But it would mean hundreds of dollars wasted for us, so we have to unfortunately pay to keep the product going, which we regret buying.

Curiously, some JVC offices are in Illinois, which is where I live, but the products are made in Indonesia, so they probably don't have much control or care about how they're produced thousands of miles away.

Contrast JVC's response to the nice response I got from Sony. We still have a Sony TV from the mid-1990's, and it works perfectly.

The JVC model we have that's now useless is DR-MV100B. I'm just posting it here so that you don't make the same mistake we did.


Paris in a Box

A coworker who knows I'm really into language and international stuff gave me a cute gift: Paris in a Box. I love it!
This kit comes with mementos to add French ambiance to your space, including a mini Eiffel Tower, a French flag with stand, three Parisian magnets with French sayings, and a 32-page book containing the top twenty-five reasons to love Paris.
Now I just have to go to Paris--I still have never been there, and have read and heard so much about it!



To continue my new year's resolution to consistently study Japanese, I've decided to title my Valentine's Day post in Japanese (though it's of course in katakana since China nor Japan invented it).

There's an article about Valentine's Day in easy-to-read Japanese (they provide all the furigana for any kanji you might not know) at the Yomiuri online. It seems like the articles are for people to learn Japanese, but they are part of a series of English learning articles. Maybe they're for both English and Japanese speakers, since the information is in easy Japanese with some English phrases thrown in. There's also a cute video that will help you practice English with Japanese accents.


This book delivers

I just read Kathy Griffin's new book, and while it has her typical vulgarity, which I'm not a fan of (and would never tell her because she derides people who think that way), it really delivers. This is why: she gives good info about various people in the entertainment biz, talks about her personal struggles with guys and food, reveals secrets about her family including her criminal brother, and even gives good advice for becoming successful. Well, I think I saw just a couple of cases of direct advice, but through her story you learn about how tenacity and hard work can open doors. And meeting the right people, of course. I also like how she expresses her honest envy of people who achieve fame from barely doing anything. Check out the preview below (many pages of the book are included).


When a French kiss is not a kiss

As Valentine's Day is approaching, many individuals are discussing (or avoiding discussions of) kisses, hugs, and love. Explaining these concepts in certain languages may sometimes be more difficult than expected if a non-native speaker is relying on first-language logic and cognates. 
In Spanish, the logic generally follows English. A kiss/to kiss is "un beso"/"besar," and a hug/to hug is "un abrazo"/"abrazar." Similarly, in Portuguese, the same distinction is made: "um beijo"/"beijar" vs. "um abraço"/"abraçar." Moving across the Romance-language spectrum, we find the same logic in Italian with "bacio"/"baciare" vs. "abbraccio"/"abbracciar." We run into major and potentially VERY embarrassing snags when we get to French. 
At one point, French followed its Latin brethren, with cognates "un baiser"/"baiser" vs. "une embrassade"/"embrasser" referring to smooching and embracing.  But then something changed. Radically. Confusingly.  
A thread on wordreference.com describes the situation:
As I see it, the confusion about kissing and hugging got started in the 17th century. The exquisite preciosity (and hypocrisy) of the Versailles courtisans - who called teeth "the furnishings of the mouth", for example - made it popular among them to describe having sex with someone as "kissing" them. It was less crude, but more ambiguous too, and it soon lost its euphemistic sense and became a word just as rude as f---. The result is that, until today, if you say that a couple is baise-ing, it means they are f***ing, et point final!

This expropriation, however, created a need for a substitute to describe the simple act of kissing someone, now that “baiser” had been irretrievably expropriated for another purpose. The solution created even more confusion - the verb "embrasser", to embrace, began to be used (or misused) instead.

The result of all this is that in current French one has to find all sorts of round-about ways of describing these simple acts. For example, to say "I want to kiss you", you can choose between "Je veux t'embrasser" or – curiously - "Je veux te donner un baiser", since the noun did not meet the same fate as the verb.

“I want to hug you” is even worse, since this gesture is not very French and, what with “embrasser” now meaning “to kiss”, has to be described in detail: "Je veux t'entourer des bras", "Je veux t'enlacer", or still "Je veux te serrer dans mes bras". Curiously again, the noun retains its original meaning – the seldom used “une embrassade” still means “an embrace”.
Talk about a potential minefield of traps for non-native speakers! Consequently, "Je veux te donner un baiser" is a perfectly innocent way to say "I want to give you a kiss," yet "Je veux te baiser" means something far more intimate. And "I want to give you a hug" comes across more like an instruction manual than a simple desire, as constructions such as "I want to squeeze you with my arms" or "I want to wrap you in my arms" are generally used.   
As for what English-speakers call a French kiss (i.e. a tongue kiss), in France it is often called (politely) as "un baiser amoureux" ("a love kiss"), with the verb "to French kiss" being "embrasser avec la langue" ("to kiss with the tongue"). In Quebec (Canada), however, the anglicism "frencher" is sometimes used as the verb-in French. Now that's ironic! 

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Facebook in Japanese is fun!

I've been using Facebook in British English, but today I decided to mix it up and use it in Japanese. It's really great! Since I've already seen a lot of the stuff in English, I can figure out what the Japanese is, but if I want to understand all the kanji, then I go to my beloved Popjisyo to get the exact reading.

There are many cool things about the Japanese version, including: the use of さん (san) after everyone's name, the politeness of the Facebookチーム because in English they usually say nothing in an email alert, but in Japanese they have the formal closing phrase よろしくお願いいたします. And if you "like" someone's status or link, it becomes "いいね!" in Japanese. And of course, it's neato to see all the Japanese everywhere. Very cool and I highly recommend using Facebook in a language that you're learning because it's good practice. And nerdy fun!


United States language map

Mad Minerva told me about a language map that shows the percentages and numbers of language speakers in the US. You can view the entire United States or any individual state, and you can do a search of a wide variety of languages wherever you want. It also gives a breakdown of languages spoken in each of the states. Such nerdy fun!