undekatakanifiable puns

04.15.2017 § Leave a comment

I’ve been in Japan for almost three months and just realized that two amusing things I’ve encountered follow a pattern: they are puns on words which have been converted into katakana, and are only possible after conversion into katakana.

Information is lost when converting to katakana. The distinction between many vowels is lost, as there are only five vowel sounds in Japanese (something like 20 in English). The distinction between r and l is lost; both become the Japanese consonant r which is somewhere between r and l. The distinction between syllable terminal m and n is lost; both become the Japanese consonant n which ends up sounding like an n or an m depending on the voicing of the consonant beginning the next syllable.

Consider two words which in their native language would not be similarly enough pronounced to make puns out of. Once converted into katakana, their pronunciations are simplified and converge such that they are similar enough to make puns out of. Thus they are un-de-katakan-ifi-able puns.

Here’s the examples I’ve found so far.


Sherlock Holmes + rock n’ roll = Sherlock n’ Roll!


pain (French for bread, pronounced pɛ̃) + lampshade = pampshade


smooth + zoo = smoozoo


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