Using 「とは」 to look up strange words

The edict dictionary is one of best online dictionaries available, better than any print E->J dictionaries I know of. It is also continuously being expanded from user submissions. Even in the rare instance that it doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you’re covered with the monster huge 大辞泉 and 大辞林 J->J dictionaries available for free at Yahoo!辞書. If you have the patience to work through the Japanese definition, you should be able to find a definition for every word in any print dictionary available to native speakers. However, with new words and slang being invented all the time, you might run into words that are not in any traditional dictionary. The good news is that a lot of Japanese people won’t be familiar with them either. Here’s a quick tip from me to easily find Japanese sites that explain and define words of this nature. In the process, I’ll also discuss a very special double particle.

The 「とは」 double particle

While you can guess the meaning of most double particles from the sum of it’s parts such as 「には」 (a target that’s also a topic), 「とは」 really has a meaning of its own. Simply put, it is a somewhat formal and concise way to define something. For example, try searching on Google for 「とは」 and you’ll get pages with titles like 「ITとは」 and 「WWWとは」. If you go to the site itself, it’ll give you a short definition of the relevant term.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. When I run into a term that’s not in the dictionary (which in my case is usually new expressions or slang too stupid to put in a real dictionary), I search the term in Google with 「とは」.

For example, when I was listening to 眞鍋かをり’s podcast titled あなたの周りのKYな人, I had forgotten what “KY” meant. Now, looking up a term like “KY” is usually very difficult because there isn’t a lick of Japanese in the “word” (and I use that term loosely). But all I had to do was attach 「とは」 and soon found this neat and in-depth definition in no time.




In fact, thanks to this search, I found the 「日本語俗語辞書」 with all sorts of stupid slang that I’ll probably end up wishing I’d kept to myself. Please don’t send me an email along the lines of, “Hey, after reading your blog, I called my boss an AY for fun and he actually knew what it meant! He totally MMed on me and now I’m out of a job. What should I do?”

Anyway, in addition to the regular KY語 (God, it’s turning into its own language now?), this tactic was also useful for looking up Internet slang when I wrote about 電車男. For instance, the first search result for 「ROMとは」 turned up this nice little definition.





So there you have it, a simple neat tip from me to you. I just wish I had better examples that won’t turn your cute little 「ます/です」 classroom Japanese to the dark side. Just don’t be using this stuff when you’re talking to me. You’ll totally get the hand and I mean that.


12 thoughts on “Using 「とは」 to look up strange words

  1. Oh, come on, all Japanese classrooms don’t think ヤンキーの日本語 is bad. Anyway, this is an interesting post! I think I’ll go on a 「とは」 search-fest when I’ve got some free time! 🙂

  2. I learned what “KY” meant a long time ago, but for some reason, I still can’t help thinking of KY Jelly when I see it or hear it. orz

  3. edict might have be better in terms of breadth. But I find its usability to be quite horrible. My dictionary of choice is Kanjidict, which uses the original edict database but might not include the submissions? It’s much easier to use.

    I have a question though: What’s the difference between 乗 and 載? The dictionaries list them together, but a coworker told me that the former was used for giving rides, and the latter was used for publishing. I’d only heard of the former previously, so I’m not really sure. What do you think?

  4. @Erek

    I think your coworker had the right idea. 乗る is to ride, 載る is used when something is put on something else such as text on a piece of paper.


    って何 could certainly work but I think とは might work better since the former is just asking the question and the latter is more likely to have the answer.

  5. 勝手に日本語直すマン参上!


    Names which don’t have 眞(real) are fake! 🙂

  6. いつも直してくれてありがとう。


  7. いやいや気になさらずに。

  8. いやいや、もっと自信を持って、「これ間違っているよ」って書けばいいよ。

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