カメラマン ≠ cameraman

The Google Image results for this one are so awesome that I won’t even bother embedding images. Just check out the difference in the results for cameraman, and then the results for カメラマン.

A cameraman always works with video, whereas a カメラマン works with photographs most of the time, and should therefore be translated as photographer. It can be a video cameraman, but Yahoo gives that as the second definition and provides 撮影技師 as a more specific alternative.

It’s kind of cute to think that カメラマン is simply a “man with a camera” in Japanese. It tickles me in the same way as when this Portuguese girl once told me she bought a new “photographic machine,” which is the literal translation from Portuguese. Remember, laughing at and being laughed at is a good thing when learning a language.

And the moral of the story is… don’t submit to the katakana! Know how to use them and make them work for you! And think before you translate them.

7 thoughts on “カメラマン ≠ cameraman

  1. Every once in a while you’ll meet an older Japanese person who still talks about his or her 写真機, to tie things in with the Portuguese connection there.

  2. Yahoo also seems to show the definition of the English “cameraman” as also meaning a newspaper photographer. This is just a little semantic widening of the word in Japanese or narrowing in English. I really don’t think you’d run into much trouble just substituting カメラマン for “cameraman”. Context should clear away any confusion. 撮影技師 seems very rigid and too specific for most situations and like the sort of word you’d only see in credits. Of course, formal words are sometimes the better fit.

  3. Durf – That reminds me of people who still use 汽車.

    Brian – I have no real problem using カメラマン for cameraman, especially if the context is clear. I think Google makes it pretty clear that it’s more flexible than cameraman. My main qualm is using cameraman for カメラマン when the person happens to be a 写真家. Photographer is a much more natural word to choose.

  4. Good point!
    I did a little presentation for some women’s club international exchange event back in the day, talking about the pitfalls of katakana words (an air-conditioner cannot heat a room, etc, etc, and so on). 11 years later, someone who had been there brought it up, laughing, and reminded me of examples I’d given that I’d totally forgotten. Weird what makes an impression on people.

  5. So many pitfalls – I’ll have to note this one specifically. When I was explaining how katakana is used to my husband, he said “oh well at least you already know how to spell those words!” I gently explained that no, I will have to relearn most of those as well and how the Japanese use them.

    His conclusion: how many decades will it take you to learn this language then?

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