Japanese Go Terms / Discussion

Sub-page of JapaneseGoTerms

A perennial topic here on SL is the use of Japanese go terms, technical or appreciative or simply for 'atmosphere'. Discussion has in the past been spread over a number of places.


The Japanese terms used here tend to come up naturally in discussion. Various lists have been compiled in the past:

There are many web sites, but numerous instances of material copied from one list to another, often perpetuating misconceptions or mistranslations. It would be a large job to collate all the discussions of individual terms on SL to make a definitive dictionary (the more so because a single term such as kikashi can lead to ramifying explanations). Put it another way: you might have to write the encyclopedic version first, to extract a reliable dictionary.

Four-language dictionary

Highly desirable would be then to extend to a dictionary taking in Chinese and Korean terms, with the same depth of discussion. It seems unlikely that the initiative will be taken on this by any of the East Asian go institutions. An example of the difficulties can be seen on the shudan and haengma pages.

Charles Matthews

DougRidgway Just to add some discussion here, on the use of Japanese go terms in English writing: my perspective is that any word used by writers of English is an English word, so for example both shicho and ladder are English words, and are available for use. Of course, the English meaning of a word with a foreign etymology can (and often does) differ from that of the foreign word in its original language. Different authors and translaters make different choices, sometimes depending on context.

Myself, for pedagogical or technical writing, I much prefer the home-grown terms over the imported ones. I find they stick in my brain better, are more helpful conceptually, and avoid endless irrelevant discussions as to whether the English "keima" is truly capturing the full essence of what native Japanese speakers mean by keima. For artistic writing, it depends on context: having Hikaru and Sai say "komoku" for 3-4 point, "hand" for "move", etc., does an excellent job of conveying the cultural milieu.

Dieter: A point that I have tried to make in the past is this: the very same argument that you use to favour English terms we (Ishi-bred) non-native speakers apply to defend Japanese terms. The whole point is whether we are on equal terms when it comes to writing here. For me, acquiring "knight's move" for "keima" is more work, not less. A big argument in favour of English terms however, is the advent of Korean grown theory and books, which obviously show some reluctance to use Japanese terms. So I have got over it. (Dieter: I do not carry this standpoint any longer, but keep it here for reference to Charles' reaction).

Charles Writing in jargon is always OK for experts talking to experts. But most writing on go can't afford to be like that.

HolIgor: There is one other consideration that can be important for the international site like this. People tend to have their own languages. Those languages borrowed some Japanese terms and translated the others.

For example, Russians use the Japanese term hasami. It was not translated, no Russian word was adopted to include this meaning. Then when reading an English book one encounters 'pincer'. What is that? It is far more difficult to understand. Furthermore, it is stupid to translate the English term. This means, that when you want to translate an English article into Russian for your friends, you have to replace all 'pincers' with 'hasami'.

The term 'nets' is even a worse example. While 'pincer' carries the same meaning, the meaning of 'nets' is quite far from the image of the wooden sandals.

Shimari more understandable than 'corner inclosure'.

At the same time Russian go literature almost does not use 'hiraki', 'watari', 'uchikomi', 'oba'. Yet, some other languages prefer these terms.

Charles Firstly, it is true that SL has a very international, multi-lingual readership and group of contributors, amongst English-language wikis: perhaps one of the most varied, if you look at native language, and this is something to be proud of. It is still an English-language wiki (mostly, though this seems not to be agreed policy). Therefore it shouldn't be a problem to have page names that are English terms, with Japanese and other terms available as translations and aliases. Everyone should understand that Chinese and Korean players find English terms (for discussion of go in English) more acceptable than Japanese terms. Most non-anglophone Europeans have positive feelings about use of Japanese terms. So, no way of settling this will be perfect.

By the way, is that 'gasami' or 'khasami'?

HolIgor: khasami, if you can produce that sound.

Explanation: Russian language does not have 'h' sound and Russians are very inconsistent in pronouncing English words with 'H'. Sometimes they replace it with G, sometimes with another sound (it has no English equivalent and is usually transribed as 'KH' in English texts).

Ukrainian language does have 'H' sound but many terms came into Ukrainian through Russian and these sounds have become 'KH' anyway. So, it is 'khasami' rather than 'hasami' in Ukrainian, if you are not purist, of course.

Charles Thanks, I studied Russian at school. I last tried it on Lazarev.

John F. I never cease to be amazed at the strong feelings that go terminology arouses, not because of the implicit nationalism - that I can easily accept - but because those who shout the loudest are often those who have never wrestled with actually writing for other go players. In practice there is a simple solution, which many of us do use. You choose your term and then you either define it or give an alias. Why do so many people get hot under the collar about that?

BobMcGuigan: Japanese go terms are sometimes hard to use correctly. For example hane and osae. People use one when they should use the other. But even from dictionary definitions it is easy to see how they could be confused. See Hane versus osae.

tderz tebyoushi?? from Hikaru-no-Go vol.6 or 7, meaning was described as 'answering (unecessary) the opponent's last move', 'following'. Can s.o. give characters, correct meaning?

Bill: The basic meaning of 手拍子 is clapping in time. Here it has a more metaphorical meaning of automatic response. It is a very common error of beginners.

urusainaa: please feel to edit or move this comment but. Why worry about romanization? Why use Japanese terms at all? The game is Chinese in origin anyway. Words like "hane" etc can have some use but things like "aji keshi" "te nuki" etc just seem a little pretentious and are undoubtedly a handicap to new players. Let's use English words, after all, most English players pronunciation of "atari"(aTAri) would leave japanese people baffled.

DrStraw: what one word accurately replaces hane, or tenuki, or a host of others?

urusainaa "here tenuki would be good" "here, play somewhere else." I don't see that it's a big difference but as I said, some words like "hane" should stay but why don't we say "saru suberi" or "katauchi" instead of "monkey jump and shoulder hit?"

DrStraw: I do if I am addressing someone who knows the terms. urusainaa: huh? then do you call a game a "taikyoku?" and do you say "onegaishimasu" before playing? Why not go the whole hog and only speak Japanese?

Bob McGuigan: Historically the Japanese were the most active in spreading Go in the West so we have inherited a lot of Go termionology from them. Many people have expressed a desire to use English wherever a good English expression can be found. There are many discussions about that on SL. The problem is finding an appropriate English expression. Frequently something that has a single Japanese word, like hane, doesn't have a succinct English equivalent, and so the Japanese word tends to be used. In any case this discussion belongs on a page related to English equivalents of Asian go terms, doesn't it?

Andrew Grant: Sorry, but I really don't see how urusainaa expects us to do without romanized Japanese altogether. How does he expect us to deal with the names of Japanese professionals? Although "Little-wood Light-one" has a certain charm, I don't expect it to replace "Kobayashi Koichi" anytime soon. And as long as we wish to discuss the doings of Japanese professionals, we are going to have to talk about how to romanize their names. This would be true even if we Anglicized every Go term in the book.

urusainaa I think you have misunderstood me and for that I must apologize. I don't expect people to do without Japanese words altogether as I have said. I merely think that some of the more complex terms should be rendered into English. Take Judo for example. Even though many of the terms are in Japanese the teachers still say "throw" "win "lose" "attack" etc in English they don't go into this half Japanese banter than no one can understand. "aji keshi" is a prime example. "that's aji keshi!" is just ridiculous.

Andrew Grant: Most of the Japanese jargon has been rendered into English. Take a look at any English go book from before the mid-70's, such as "Modern Joseki and Fuseki", where they threw terms like "niken takabasami" about on virtually every page. A modern book would say "two space high pincer", and a good thing too. The Japanese terms that remain today are a small fraction of what I had to learn thirty years ago. I expect more of them to disappear in future. You're pushing at an open door.

DrStraw: and the ones which remain do so because there is no simple english term which concisely describes the japanese term.

BTW, the conversation on this page is not really about romaji.

nachtrabe: I'm not sure the "aji keshi" example is a good one. Kind of like how "hane" rolls off of the tongue better than "quick turn" does, "that's aji keshi" comes off better than "that removes potential you might be able to use later." It is somewhat less verbose.

kokiri japanese terms can confuse and there's no need for a lot of them but getting rid of them is as stupid as only using them. Plus, there are a lot of non-english-native-speaking go players out there - why struggle to try to work out what wasted potential is in latvian, when aji keshi will do? A little bit of unnecessary affectation goes to make the world a more interesting place, if you ask me - the limit beyond which it becomes confusing and unhelpful is not at zero.

Bob McGuigan: I think the topic of use of Japanese terms is an interesting one. There is a lot of discussion on SL, such as Using Japanese terms when you don't know what they mean. More discussion can be found on other pages under the heading "go terms". John Fairbairn has written quite a bit on the problem of finding good equivalents for foreign go terms.

urusainaa ok I've moved this page again. I hope this is a suitable title. Another example of what I I'm talking about is on the hamate/trick play pages. If you look you'll see that the trick play pages tell you that hamete is infact not trick play but something a little different. hamete is more complex and trick plays are not. Firstly this definition doesn't, to me, make any sense. The explanation implies that hamete are tricky enough to even trick a low dan player. This doesn't deal with the fact that, no matter how complex it is, it's still a trick play.

The other irnoy is, after this long explanation, the examples given on the hamete page are labled trick play 1-4!? Are they trick plays or hamete?

Bill: Please do not assume that, just because a Japanese term has its own page on SL, SL is endorsing its use instead of an English term. The policy here is to prefer English terms. However, people will run into Japanese, Chinese, or Korean go terms, and SL tries to help people understand those terms if they are interested.

However, because of familiarity, many pages started out on SL as Japanese terms. Attachment started as Tsuke, I think, and Trick Play as Hamete. Because of the policy of preferring English, Trick play has become the preferred page, but because the two terms have somewhat different meanings, each has a separate existence. If someone hears about a hamete dictionary and wants to know what it is about, they can check the hamete page and get an answer.

The hamete examples are titled as trick plays because of the policy of preferring Engish. You should approve.

Bob Myers: This issue has been discussed to death previously on SL. You should go back and find and read those discussions, some quite erudite.

There is no secret conspiracy to promote the use of incomprehensible Japanese terms. Instead of naming this page how much should Japanese terms be used in discussing go you should have named it WhyDoPeopleKeepRaisingTheIssueOfJapaneseTermsAgainAndAgain?.

There is a quite widespread consensus in this area of Japanese vs. English nomenclature. If a good English term exists, prefer it, especially if it is already in wide use. Otherwise, propose an English alternative. If there's no good alternative, use the Japanese.

What you are saying is roughly like having a page called Dog?, and then complaining that someone has added a page called ShibaInu?, whining that that's unnecessary since a ShibaInu? is a type of dog and we already have a dog page. Then you go on to complain that ShibaInu? is Japanese and someone should invent some random "English" (as if ShibaInu? was not already "English"). Or you say that to avoid "Japanese" it would be better if instead we just said "small, intelligent, spirited, Japanese hunting dog".

I revisit the famous hamete incident with some trepidation, but what you need to understand, and would if you would simply read the page, is that the meaning of hamete is different from that of trick play, in roughly the same way that the meaning of ShibaInu? differs from that of Dog?. I find it very hard to believe that you actually believe that the following two concepts should be conflated. (1) Random, cheap trick move played by a 10kyu in Podunk hoping his opponent will miss an obvious response. (2) A subtle deviation from joseki which can lead the opponent down an obvious-looking path but gives you the upper hand. The first is a trick play, the second hamete.

Actually, if you had bothered to read the page on hamete, you would discover that an English term has in fact been proposed, namely JosekiTrap. The joseki part is important because that's what hamete means--a joseki variation. The trap part is also important, since it conveys the nuance of "luring" your opponent into the trap. Go ahead and add that as an alias, or even make it the main page and make hamete an alias to it. No problem.

But why, you may ask, go to all the trouble of identifying and distinguishing and naming and documenting this relatively obscure concept? Well, if you personally don't want to learn about hamete I'm sure the earth will continue revolving around the sun. Over hundreds of years the Japanese developed a set of useful go concepts which have served them quite well, hamete being one of the minor ones. In particular, hamete is a useful thing for mid-to-high dan players to study as a way of deepening their understanding of joseki.

As for the names of the page of the hamete examples, I would differ from Bill. They should be named hamete or joseki trap. The fact that they are still named "trick play example" is just a historical artifact.

urusainaa well. what a rude reply. Who on earth do you think you are? I moved the page when people asked me and you're still complaining. Perhaps you could dig up one of these paegs that discusses these Issues for me and all this trouble would have been saved.

Dieter: The discussion can a.o. be found on Japanese Go Terms/discussion. If you agree, I will move the content of this discussion to that one and request deletion of this page. In general, starting up a page which is clearly only a discussion page is not so good practice, because it should likely be on the discussion subpage of the topic.

The more subtle part of Bob's reply, about the difference between hamete and trick leads to interesting, almost philosophical thoughts. In fact, most hamete, if played by us amateurs, would be much better than our usual bad play. And, what's a stupid trick by a 10k in the eyes of a 5d, is a subtle trap in the eyes of any beginner. I guess playing hamete against God would be very rude.

Bob Myers: Yes, it makes sense to consolidate this into Japanese Go Terms/discussion.

DrStraw: In my opinion this whole discussion is rather ridiculous. The point of jargon is to facilitate discussion of a topic by insiders. Imagine if, in one of my mathematics classes, I had to say "a rule for associating an element of one set to another set such that it is either one-to-one or many-to-one" instead of the standard term "function". My classes would be twice as long! And don't tell me that function is an English word. Its use in mathematics might just as well be Japanese to anyone who knows nothing about mathematics. It is exactly the same with the use of Go terms. Sure we could use English words to describe Go concepts, and where simple ones are suitable we usually do. But please do not try to force me to use a long-winded roundabout description of a concept which can be concisely described using a single jargon word. In this case, the jargon happens to be Japanese, but only because there has been several hundred years in which to develop the jargon. Many Japanses Go terms would be as unintelligible to the man in the street in Tokyo as my example of function would be to the average man in the street in New York City. One part of teaching mathematics is to familiarize students with the mathematics jargon so that they can communicate mathematics concepts concisely. When teaching Go I expect to do likewise. People who whine about using Japanese (or Chinese or Korean) terms remind of my students who are only interested in getting a grade without any effort and don't really want to learn anything. If you want to use convoluted phrases in preference to hamete or ajikeshi (and many others) you are free to do so. Just don't try to force everyone else to do so.

ilan: Remind me of G.H. Hardy using the term "quadratfrei" because he said he couldn't find a good English equivalent. Looking back on it years later, I suppose it was a joke. P.J. Cohen tells the story that the use of "trace" in matrix theory comes from the translation of the German word "spur" which means trace, but which was used by Germans who simply took the English name "spur" given by Cayley because the main diagonal looks like a spur. I have never checked its apocryphality (not a real word). Here is something I do know about: The English term "continued fraction" should be "fraction continué" in French but has been corrupted in the last 100 years into "fraction continue." Recently, some famous mathematicians working at Orsay have translated this corruption into English publishing a paper on "continuous fractions" despite all their English references usage of the correct term. One can wonder at their lack of scholarship, or whether it is an elaborate joke. In any case, everyone I ever mentioned this to didn't care except for wondering why I did.

  • DrStraw: Continuous fraction :) Boggles the mind! Maybe it is some sort of discrete continuity. But it seems a more interesting topic of discussion that the rest of this page.

Morten I wholly agree. A good point well made. I'll repeat a statement I've made some weeks ago here: I posit that the desire to translate everything into words already existing so that any unusual concept can be interpreted purely in terms of what you already know, if followed, would have meant that we still lived in the dark ages.

Also (and probably less emotionally laden and more constructively:), although the content on SL is mostly english, I guess that the majority of users are not native english speakers. The Japanese terms are used by a variety of non-native english users and probably often represents a 'common denominator' which the 'approved' english term does not.

By all means discuss local translations of certain terms, but do not remove or belittle terms which are in common use, just becaue they are in other languages.

Dieter: The mathetmatics analogy is flawed, just like most analogies falsify a logical argument. The lingua franca for mathematics these days, is English. Even in other communities, such the German spekaing one, there is enough consensus about terminology. After all, the contribution of Germany (or France, or ...) has been very large as well. The lingua franca in Go is Japanese, Chinese or Korean. Sensei's Library is English speaking. There are not sufficient professional players, nor writers participating in SL to have a uniform language. Hence we resort to hane, haengma or Qi. What we are trying to do here, among many other things, is to reach such vocabulary (and moreover the understanding that comes through it). Of course this is bound to meet with a lot of discussion, since only a few contributors have professional experience (John F. being one of them).

If mathematics were taught using Euclides' original language, people would be forced to learn some Greek before understanding geometry, whereas now, little kids have no difficulty relating to "point", "line" or "circle". Then they reach high school and they have to learn Arab, to understand basic algebra. No, not with me. Morten's argument that many of us are not native speakers of English anyway, is one I have used before, but do not advocate anymore: SL is an English speaking community. That is not to say that some concepts, which are difficult to convey in one word, are likely to remain present in the eventual language.

The main reasons for me to try and translate as much into elegant English as possible are: not to scare off beginners, and not to irritate Chinese or Korean contributors. The "laziness" criticism is unfair and reminds of grumpy school teachers. I prefer not to make beginners responsible for understanding what we write here. Also, the fact that "hamete" is not really a trick play, or atsumi is not really strength, is more likely to put off people than motivate them to understand the concepts. For myself, things have become much much clearer, since I started thinking of stability, development, strength, simple connection etc. Clinging to Japanese Go terms is a mild form of snobism: it's fun to know that you know and I know, but it is not very productive when explaining the game, especially if in fact you don't really know.

DrStraw: Dieter, your comment refers to not wanting to learn Geometry in the original Greek. Why do you not talk about learning "the science of measurement of the earth"? Do you see my point? Geometry is an anglicized version of the original Greek. We discuss it in English, but still use a Greek name for the topic. We still discuss Go topics (such as ajikeshi) in English, but use the technical term for conciseness. When teaching young children the basic ideas of geometry we do not need to tell them they are studying geometry. When they have gather a little experience we can bring together a number of ideas together under the umbrella of "Geometry" and, if they have any ability or interest, their understanding is improved. In the same way, we do not need to talk about "ajikeshi" with beginners, and I normally would not do so, but once a certain level of sophistication is reached it helps to clarify the concept. I repeat, many go terms are not everyday Japanese terms any more than they are English. Whether we use Japanese, Korean, Chinese, English or Swahili is not important. What is important is that we clarify a concept by giving it a concise name. It just so happens that we have a precedence in the west for Japanese.

Dieter: In Dutch we do say meetkunde fo geometry. #:-7. I want to keep speaking of Go, not "the surrounding game": at least for the word "Go" we have some kind of universal agreement. I do not as much favour a relentless quest for translating all Japanese concepts. I follow Charles on this one - I think - and favour a maximal vocabulary of our own, because all too often we comment on each other's proposals with "It's honte", or "The tsuke is better here" only to have someone else comment "But that's not what honte means" or "No no, that's nobi, not tsuke." and we forget all about the initial technical discussion. If instead we would comment "Right time to stabilize that group" or "the attachment (contact play) is appropriate here", we would less likely run into linguistic quibbles.

Bob McGuigan: I agree that discussion of real go content, as Dieter recommends, is far more important than linguistic quibbles. Nevertheless I can't resist one more point re Japanese terminology. We do have a policy that useful English equivalents are preferable to Japanese, Korean or Chinese words, but a lot of established English words for go concepts are jargon themselves. For example "shoulder hit" for katatsuki. Shoulder of what?

ilan: I prefer not to use Japanese terms when discussing Baduk.

Morten LOL :-) But, would you prefer to use the Chinese or the English terms instead? Should we call the term 'Haengma' 'deprecated' if we find an english translation for it?

BTW, Bob, (I am asking this without wanting to sound rude...) where is this 'policy' on SL to prefer english terms? Admittedly, we have many 'rules, etiquette and guidelines' on many pages, but I wasn't aware that this was one of them and I'm not sure whether it's fair to keep asserting that it is...? If nothing else, then at least this page should be moved there....

Bob McGuigan: Oops, my error regarding policy. I don't know where I got that, probably a misinterpretation of the concensus of some discussion re use of Japanese terms. I hope I didn't confuse the issue.

Bill: As with everything, there is a balance. I prefer English. (Sometimes I slip, because I learned the Japanese term first.) But if the right word is a Japanese, Chinese, or Korean term, I will use it. As Mark Twain (English 9p) said, "Use the right word, not its cousin."

What really bothers me is when people avoid an English term because it is a translation from Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. I suppose they do not even want us to think in foreign terms, but develop our own, English mode of thinking about go. Well, in time that will happen, but my gosh!

Later, in response to Morten: Well, I thought it was policy, too:. "English is the language of SL." In the past couple of years there has been considerable editing to replace Oriental terms with English, including making a page with an English title the main page, with the original Oriental title an alias.

Morten: Sure, but any number of changes do not constitute a 'policy'. The argument "there's a policy because there have been changes" and "we change things because there's a policy" appears to be circular... :-)

I am honestly asking because I cannot recall the issue being consciously made the subject of a 'policy' anywhere, and although users can of course rename etc. as they see fit (unless stopped by others), I wouldn't want to say 'the policy is (english or not english)', because I would then be asserting an authority which I don't have. At best, it would be a 'custom', and not a 'policy'.

On a simlar note, I cannot find "English is the language of SL." anywhere else on SL than on this page, so I would probably not present that as a quotation, but as an opinion...

(This no longer relates to the topic but strays into the realm of "how to discuss")

Call me pedantic if you want - maybe I've just been unable to find the ('erudite'?) page(s?) where this was 'agreed'?

To get back on track:

I don't think anyone has said that they want to not use english terms. What is being objected to is that non-english terms are removed, or referred to as 'not preferred'. I cannot see the point in this. Yes, English terms have a role to play, as do Japanese, Korean, Chinese and maybe even German or Dutch terms, and this will vary on the audience. Why should any one group 'impose' on the other what they should or should not say or refer to when they write?

When SL was first started, we actually wondered whther it might end up being non-english in the majority. We have had several pages in different languages, and the addition of non-western characters was 'by popular demand' - this trend to denigrate all non-english words strickes me as odd.

Bill: Morten, I am glad to hear that I was mistaken about SL policy. (I still prefer English, though. ;-))

You say, "Why should any one group 'impose' on the other what they should or should not say or refer to when they write?" Does that sentiment officially hold for terminology here on SL? Including page titles? Or is terminology in page titles subject to official approval?

Morten Well,... the way I've always seen SL is that there are no 'officials' and noone who 'approves' anything. Everyone has their own opinion, but noone has the 'official' opinion. In the longer run, the majority will win out, but that is not because of any one person or group of persons being more 'official', although each contributor will of course try to win the majority over to his side... I can think of very few, if any, cases where Arno or myself have 'imposed' anything at all? (Also, Arno, being wiser and older than I am, typically stays out of these kind of discusions...)

Consider SL to be George Orwells Animal farm, but with no pigs...?

Seriously, this lack of officialdom may be one of SLs 'problems' w.r.t. the recent MetaDiscussion and may change if/when SLII gathers momentum. But until then, I wouldn't want users to feel that the opinion of anyone (including Arno and myself) automatically overrides that of anyone else.

Bill: Thanks for your considered response, Morten. I appreciate your clearing things up for me. :-)

Anyway, although an interesting discussion, this is straying away from the point at hand...

Bill: My apologies for getting off track, but I was laboring under some misimpressions and felt the need to ask. I am a power to the people person, myself, as you might have gathered from my WME proposal.

I like Remillard's argument below:

Remillard: I personally prefer the best tool in the toolbox to explain something. As illustration, I think that the tongue-in-cheek comment by ilan is perfect. I myself do not know many Korean terms for the game, but I've been very interested in the Haeng-ma Tutorial and the concept of Ja-Choong-Soo. Any time a culture creates a word (or short phrase that doubles as a term) it means it's important in some respect, and worthy of my study. In this particular case, it does seem to be non-trivial to find a suitable English idiom that captures the subtleties of Ja-Choong-Soo. Sometimes the best tool in the toolbox is not an English word or phrase.

For that matter, a great deal of "English" is based on exactly the same idea. There is no end of words that have a French, or Germanic, or Greek, or Roman, or Slovak root. They became part of the language due to usage, because they were the best tool for the job of communicating that particular concept. In this case, "hane" and "sente" and "hamete" and all the others, in my estimation, have become part of the English language. They are certainly not in their original kanji/kana form; they've been described with romaji. I believe it could be pretty easily argued that they are English words with a Japanese root, and describe aspects of a game called Go. Words like hamete that have a more subtle meaning than simple "trick play" nearly prove their necessity in the language.

Anyway, I've said my bit. I think DrStraw's argument was right on. I would just as soon use "subtle deviation from a well-known established corner pattern that leads to a complexity from which it is difficult to find the best move" for "hamete" as "that shape that looks like the inside of a shot glass" for "parabolic curve".

ilan: Here is my more considered opinion: The use of Japanese terms in English seems consistent with the English language tendency to absorb foreign terms and lack of general interest in language purification, as with French and German at various times. However, I do feel that a number of English speakers use Japanese terms as an affectation consistent with their orientalist pretentions, and that can be annoying. Interestingly, Japanese Go terminology is much more prevalent in French, where the use of equivalent words like yose is standard. I have even had to ask beginners what the word they were using meant, because I hadn't come across it in my short Go career, e.g., chuban.

Morten Yes, this is strange, as the French are normally more proud of their langauge than the brits. Maybe my opinion (my preference for much of the non-english terminology) is tainted by the fact that I learnt Go in France... Ironic?

nachtrabe: But... we to keep the english language pure! We must keep the language clean of outside influences so that we can indulge in schadenfreude in making everyone else learn Yet Another Set of Baduk Terms™.

Using Japanese terminology is in my opinion a bad habit.

Why? Because it...

  • Discourages beginners.
  • Generally hampers the spread of Go in the west, by (amongst other things) linking it too strongly with Japanese culture. Just about anybody can play Go, it has nothing to do with being Japanese.
  • Causes difficulty when talking to Chinese and Korean players (and Japanese players too, since western pronunciation is usually hopeless.)
  • Is often used in an attempt to sound more authoritative.
  • English words will do just as well. OK, sometimes two or three English words need to be used where the Japanese just use one, so what? eg. hane = bend, joseki = standard sequence etc.

Spot the inconsistency? 'Go' is a japanese term. Sigh.

-- Anonymous

Barry: Using hane = bend is a good example of what you should not do. "hane" is a technical term, whereas "bend" is an English word with lots of variants of meaning. If you were going to use an english word, why not "wing"? This epitomises the problems of replacing Japanese words with English.

Bill: I agree that using the vernacular is good. However, I also do not think of certain go terms as Japanese, but as go jargon. Hane is a good example. Bend makes me think of magari. I do not see a good translation. OTOH, push and cut seems fine to me for degiri.

BobMcGuigan: While I personally have no trouble with the use of Japanese words in discussing go I certainly sympathize with Charles's rant above[1]. We use so many Japanese terms for a number of reasons. Go came to the West from Japan, and for many years our teachers were visiting Japanese professionals. As a result we adapted many Japanese terms. Use (sometimes misuse) of Japanese is also due to the numerous anime fans. Japanese terminology isn't necessary since we can use synonymous English terms. However, as has been pointed out in other places, sometimes the English substitutes miss important subtleties in meaning. As go becomes increasingly westernized it seems likely that more English (or other western language) words will be used. As things stand, some Japanese words will become a fixture in English go writing. For example, the famous proverb about death being in the hane will lose it's ring if it is written "There is death in the bend" Or maybe it should be "bend-around". As for the Korean and Chinese observers of play on the internet, they might well have as much trouble understanding some English substitutes for Japanese words as they do with the Japanese words themselves. There is a challenging task ahead for English go writers because English terms will be developed and promoted by usage. So I say keep trying. And don't get discouraged because the trend is definitely towards greater use of English. Just compare Basic Techniques of Go with more recent writing.

Juha Nieminen: IMO there's one good thing about the Japanese terminology: It's a kind of international standard terminology. Not everyone is a native english speaker. Most non-english speakers learn go and its terminology in their own native language. Using the Japanese terminology for things that are difficult to translate (how do you translate terms like ko, aji, gote or semedori in a reasonable and sensible way?) is not only reasonable because trying to invent a translation which has the full original meaning and which is not overly complicated is difficult, but also when you read go literature in another language (eg. English) you will know the meaning of these Japanese terms without them having to be explained. However, if the English text avoids all Japanese terms at all costs and uses (sometimes awkward) translations, that not only makes the text cumbersome but also harder to read for someone who doesn't know what the English translations are talking about.

Of course there are terms which are used usually in one's native language instead of using the Japanese term (eg. I don't know how terms like bulky five or eye are in Japanese). It's kind of inconsistent...



Charles Oh, I'd better make clear quickly that the anonymous author of the initial unsigned rant isn't me - I was just responding.

MattV? Certainly a timeless discussion. I guess I'd have to agree to the idea that using Japanese terms is a bit distracting when attempting to teach beginners of 30-15k. But who can escape the innumerable numbers of go players that will endeavor to "show off" their knowledge of words that will make them sound like they studied in Japan for a year? :) Despite my hatred of this phenomenon, I feel as though once one has learned the mechanics of beginner play, using the Japanese terms is a far more accurate way of conveying the concepts of the game.

Take "atari" for example. The closest English translation I have heard is "check", not at all close - check implies some sort of crucial attack to which one MUST respond, where ataris are sometimes ignored, and rightly so. I don't feel that the terms of go are intrinsically Japanese anyhow - they've become a language all their own. Words like dame (horse eye) have nothing to do with horses but are recognizeable as dame to every go player out there. I'd hate for Go to become PC, and have dame referred to as "unessential points that lie between territorial borders" - far too verbose...

When Japanese Go terms get misused by English speaking players.

Japanese Go Terms / Discussion last edited by Dieter on September 12, 2008 - 13:01
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