Pitfalls in (Medical) English
(English like applied in JAPPAN?!)

Chris Reynolds

18 June 2008

At the MITA meeting held on 18th April, 2008, Chris Reynolds gave a presentation about expressions that, as they are used by most Japanese writers of English, can mislead, are used incorrectly, or are simply incorrect. A relatively small number of expressions of this kind were selected, but they were taken from a list of over 200!—That is, from over 200 rather common errors collected over many years from texts of many kinds written or translated by people who at an impressionable stage of their lives had the misfortune to be subjected to the English education system offered by "the authorities" in Japan. (It must be admitted that this system has in recent years shown signs of being improved a little...) To be fair, many of the errors ultimately stem from the great differences between our two languages and the misunderstandings to which those differences give rise, and we native English speakers have surely made many odder and more egregious errors when attempting to use Japanese! However, the fact is that many grammar books and dictionaries published in Japan help to perpetuate English solecisms.

The presentation was intended not only to point out the errors, but also to indicate why they are errors and how to avoid them. As an example of the type of comments made, here are commentaries on two of the items in the list.

Firstly, an expression from the list that was dealt with rather more fleetingly than the others was "as possible as he could". Although this is a mixture—or should one say a confusion—of two expressions of the same meaning, one of the senior members of the group admitted that he had been taught at school that this phrase, and even "as well as possible as he could," were correct English, whereas the truth is, of course, that they are both nonsense, quite meaningless!

The other item is the word "almost". Unfortunately, the bilingual dictionaries tend to be misleading, because "almost" is not the same as "hotondo," especially in usage. The truth is that the essential meaning of "almost" is "NOT"!—And the full definition of "almost" is "NOT, but nearly". So, if it is 10.58 a.m., it is true to say that it is "almost 11 a.m.", because it is not 11 a.m., but nearly 11 a.m. Also, if I am almost finished, I am not finished, but nearly finished.... and so on. It is to be hoped this realization will make possible prevention of the use of nonsense sentences like "Almost Japanese people like sushi," which means something like, "Nihonjin ni narisoo na hitotachi wa o-sushi ga suki desu"! Have you ever met a person who is "almost Japanese"?! And what about "Almost people in Japan can read"? What are "almost people"?--Chimpanzees, perhaps?! Of course, in these last two examples, what is meant is "almost all (Japanese) people". Sometimes, though, the correct expression is "almost always", "almost never", "almost everywhere", or "almost nobody" (etc.).

Expressions that can mislead

Expressions that do not make sense or can sound ridiculous

Expressions that require care in use

An expression that now has a "new life"

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