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Wiener Coffee

At a dinner last night, my friend at the table put a scoop of whipped cream on his cup of coffee. I then asked, “That’s called Wiener Coffee, right?” Everyone laughed, but I wasn’t joking. As funny as “wiener” may sound, “Wien” is the proper name for “Vienna”, and “Wiener” the proper adjective for “Viennese”. In fact the word “wiener” to mean a type of sausage came from wienerwurst, “Viennese Sausage”.

Then someone else at the table said that the word “India” is never used among Indians. The same goes for “Japan” too. The proper name is “Nihon”. It seems that every non-English speaking country has an alternative name that has nothing to do with the original. Why is this? Why are English speakers compelled to ignore the original and invent their own? (Or, perhaps, this has nothing to do with English.)

The reason why I knew about “Wiener Coffee” is because in Japan, they honor the original names of most countries.

  • July 18, 2004
  • Posted by Dyske
  • Filed in Misc

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Dyske, I think Japanese is unusual in that respect. Whenever I've come across the names of countries in a "teach yourself" language book, or whenever I've seen a country name in print in a non-English language, it seems that the name of any country is almost always a word unique to the writer's language.

Someone else asked this question here: Also check this out: It covers only Europe, but it gives you some idea of what all the countries of Europe are called in each others' languages.

Why is this so of European languages and not Japanese? I don't know, but I can guess.
Back in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when commerce and diplomacy were getting sophisticated, educated people and merchants commonly spoke many other languages besides their own. However, they were very much in the minority. The common people, who rarely spoke more than their home language, all stuck with their traditional names for other countries, many of which tended to mean "that land where the people we call ___ live." So it was the traditional names that stayed.

From what I understand of Japanese history, Japan was closed to outsiders until quite recently (in a historical sense). When Europeans did enter Japan, they did so from quite a few different countries, and it seems natural that Japanese people would refer to the homes of the visitors by the names the visitors used themselves. Your word "honor" is telling... I think that just as Japanese noblemen would never pick a name for another person and use that instead of a person's own name, they would never have thought of making up a name for someone else's homeland when the real name was available to use. Then, later, when the borders were opened and diplomatic relations were established with the rest of the world all at once, there probably wouldn't have been time to establish brand new country names unique to Japanese.

I deeply apologize if my ignorance of history has led me to say anything wrong about your country. But I did think of a question for you--In Japan, you have quite a few subdivisions of the country--I believe they are called "prefectures" in English. These divisions seem to be very old... one centers on Tokyo and another on Osaka, for example. Are there historical names for each prefecture that are used by the people who live there, that are not usually used by other Japanese people?

speedwell2 July 18, 2004, 3:14pm

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In Japanese, isn't Eikoku the word for Great Britain (incl. Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland)?

Jun-Dai July 18, 2004, 3:59pm

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Tokyo used to be called Edo. I'm not sure about the rest. I can't think of any alternatives for them.


True, England is Eikoku and the US is Beikoku. I'm not sure where they came from. There may be other countries for which the Japanese have their own names, but the difference is that everyone is aware of the original names, and uses them as frequently as the Japanese versions.

But, the way they pronounce the original names are often very wrong. For instance, Portugal would be pronounced more like "Porutogaru".

Dyske July 18, 2004, 4:23pm

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In Japanese, aren't countries like "chugoku" only faithful to the original-language name of the country in written form (although in Hong Kong, they don't even use the same character for the "country" part of the name). Also, names like "doitsu," while a sort of approximation of the original name ("Deutschland"), are pretty far removed from their actual pronunciation (similar to names in English like "France," "Italy," or "Spain").

The origins of the names of foreign countries (and cities) in English are frequently derived from the names of those countries in other languages (French, German, Italian, etc.), but in any case you can follow a simple rule that the older the name is in the English language, the more likely it is to deviate from the name in the language of that place. This rule probably works pretty well for most languages.

It seems like there has been some movement to alter the names of certain countries in the English language (and in other languages) to bring them closer to their "correct" pronunciation, and thus we have Kampuchea, Mumbai, and Beijing. Perhaps in time we will move to Nihon, Italia, and Zhongguo, but at the moment this doesn't seem likely.

While such movement is perhaps a good idea (I haven't formed any firm ideas about this), it does bring up some as-of-yet unanswered questions: How far along this route can we go? (i.e., should we ideally use the "correct" name for every place, or only where requested by its governing body?) If we are to use a more accurate spelling, how do we pronounce that spelling? (Should we try to pronounce it the way it is pronounced in the official language of that country, or should we pronounce it as the spelling in English would lead us to believe it should be pronounced? This is an especially big concern in English, because it isn't consistently phonetic.) Should we constrained by the limitations of the language we are trying to reform? (e.g., there is no way to say anything even close to "Deutschland" in Japanese, so should it remain "doitsu" or should Japanese people learn to pronounce "Deutschland"?) Whose pronunciation should be considered official when a country that was formerly independent is now part of a country with a different language? (e.g., "Scotland" vs. "Alba", "Okinawa" vs. "Uchinan")

Jun-Dai July 18, 2004, 6:59pm

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I think you raise interesting points here. With personal names, those issues have always existed and everyone deals with them differently. Some people would insist on the correct pronunciations of their foreign names even if their phonetic components do not exist in English language. Some people don't even bother, and give themselves common English names like John, Mike, Jane, Sally, etc..

As for me, I altered the official spelling of my name (Daisuke) so that people could pronounce my name correctly.

Dyske July 18, 2004, 7:54pm

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That's cool.

I'm in the unusual position of not really having a correct pronunciation for my name. Jun is taken from Japanese and Dai from Welsh, but my parents have never favored using the Japanese pronunciation for the former part and the Welsh pronunciation for the latter. Instead, the pronunciation I usually go by is (rhymes with "run") + (sounds like "dye"), but depending on circumstances, I am just as happy to go with a Japanese pronunciation, a Spanish pronunciation, or (sounds like "june") + (sounds like "day").

Jun-Dai July 18, 2004, 10:04pm

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I'm guessing that it has something to do with European colonial history but I may be wrong. These non-anglophonic countries tend to have a long history like Japan & China thus having existed during the times of European colonisation. "Newer" non-anglophone countries like Taiwan & Hong Kong seemed to have kept their original names.

Dyske, my answer to your question is no. If we were to change the names of places in English to their original names, that would include changing a dozen of other languages as well. EG: Changing China to ZhongGuo would mean changing "Chine" in French, "Chino" in Spanish, "Cina" in Indonesian, etc.

ivy July 19, 2004, 6:42am

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I forgot to mention. The basic word "Japan" has existed for a long time in Western languages, because of European explorers that had travelled to East Asia (and Chinese explorers that had travelled West). However, I don't think the Japanese have had names for Western countries in common use for so long (since they were not exploring Europe, there wouldn't have been much need to differentiate the countries of Europe). I could definitely be wrong about this, however, since I know little enough about Japanese history, and less than that about historical Japanese perspectives on Western geography.

My father once told me that the name Japan came from Dutch explorers who asked people in some other East Asian country what the name of "that island over there" was. Well you can imagine that a name coming from outside Japan, travelling through the Dutch language (and possible some others) before arriving in English, only to go through a few hundred years of use, would find itself at odds with a direct transliteration from what the people in Japan are calling their country now.

As for another comment that you made regarding people in Japan being "aware" of the correct names of countries, you can be sure that people in Japan are much more aware of words in the English language than Americans are of words in the Japanese (or any other) language. In fact, there are probably precious few countries where such a high percentage of the literate population knows only one language.

Jun-Dai July 19, 2004, 9:58am

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Your name is Daisuke? Ooohh. <<very confused Texan internalizes a rule of Japanese pronunciation, while blushing>> I seem to have assumed it was pronounced "diskie." Sorry. :)

This is pertinent, though. Any native speaker seems inclined, from habit or ignorance, to read or hear new words as if they were words in his native language. To make matters worse, the new foreign words get mangled again in speech. To make matters even worse than that, peculiar sociological reasons exist why an exogenous word might be deliberately mispronounced.

(Texan provincial in question reflects that if she just spoke that last sentence to a bunch of her fellow Americans, they might think it was a foreign language anyway. You guys do not know how fluent you really are.)

Here's an illustration: Here in Houston, you might say, "Mr. Cardenas [Car Day Nahs], go towards downtown on San Felipe [San Feh Lee Pay] until you get to Post Oak, then turn left." Or you might hear one of our cowboys in a business suit say, "Cardeenis, go ta town on Sin Flippy till ya git ta Postek, en take uh lay uff."

Cowboy in the first place has a Texas oilfield accent so thick he needs his secretary to translate for him. In the second place, he's used to thinking of Hispanics as lower-class immigrants and therefore does not take care in pronouncing Spanish words. In the third place, he doesn't associate Post Oak with a kind of tree; it's just a street name (is there even one post oak along Post Oak?).

speedwell2 July 20, 2004, 4:39am

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The etymology of "Japan" in English is interesting.

I think the word was transmitted to the west via the Portguguese (I could be wrong). This was at a time when the Japanese language itself was different, and the N in "Nippon" sounded sort of like a nasalised J. So it's not surprising that westerners, hearing a sound somewhere between N and J picked J, but the Japanese language itself evolved more towards N for that sound. "Zipang" was probably a result of the same process.

The story with "Vienna" is probably simpler. It's spelled with a V, English speakers don't read that as a W, hence our pronunciation. The word "wiener" may have been introduced into the language by German speakers who spelled it with a W to avoid just this problem.

The English language has had some real whoppers of bizarrely anglicized place names. My favorite is "Leghorn" for Livorno, though you're not likely to encounter this anymore--the trend is clearly towards approximating the name as it is spoken by natives. But we still have Turin instead of Torino, Venice instead of Venicia, etc.

The Japanese pronunciation of "Mexico" stands out as an example of the same process that gave us the English pronunciation of "Vienna": reading the letters and guessing at the pronunciation. Mexico is generally &#x30e1;&#x30ad;&#x30b7;&#x30b3; (me-ki-shi-ko) when a more native-sounding rendering would be something like &#x30e1;&#x30c3;&#x30d2;&#x30b3; (me'hiko). I've even heard &#x30e1;&#x30af;&#x30b7;&#x30b3; (me-ku-shi-ko). Interesting aside: the kanji used to represent Mexico is &#x58a8; (boku). Almost all countries have a kanji shorthand. England is an odd case because the kanji for it is used for both the United Kingdom and for England. Scotland has its own kanji (&#x8607;), but England doesn't have one distinct from the UK's.

Speedwell: Japan's prefectures are relatively modern creations. Before them, Japan had "kuni" (interestingly, this can mean both province and country). Many of today's prefectures are combinations of 2 or 3 ancient kuni.

Adam Rice July 21, 2004, 8:45am

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Looks like my attempt at inserting Japanese didn't work!

Adam Rice July 21, 2004, 8:46am

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Another thing to consider is that "names" are only words. The idea that there is a "correct" name for a place, which is to say the name that the locals give it, may well seem more polite, but it soon runs up against insoluble problems.

There are many countries - India being a good example, Switzerland being another – where the populace speak a number of different languages. India, for example, has 17 official languages and countless other, unofficial ones; who is to say, in such circumstances, which language is to provide the "correct" version of a place name?

In Switzerland, the government's official name for the country is Helvetica - the Latin name for Switzerland - in order to avoid being seen to unduly favour the German-, French- or Italian-speaking sectors of the population.

On the other side of the coin, many foreign languages are unable to differentiate between "British" and "English" as they use the latter term interchangeably for both. This understandably causes much resentment among Welsh and Scottish people. Is this true of Japanese? Is Igirisuya - which to my ear doesn't really sound very much like England, in spite of what Dyske said about honouring the original names of most countries - used interchangeably for England and Britain?

Leghorn July 23, 2004, 8:29am

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When I lived in Japan I would often talk to Japanese people who assumed that the word "Japan" was some American invention. They use it themselves now, in the same contexts they use a lot of other English to sound "cool." In fact, it first got screwy when Italians heard the *Chinese* pronunciation of "Nippon" and went on to pronounce it "Zipang." And so on. But these days in Japan we have J-phone, J-pop, etc. There are TV shows called things like "J-sports." All those J's are from "Japan."

Funny story: Once I spent about 15 minutes trying to fingure out what the heck one of my Japanese friends was talking about when he kept saying "orando." I first gathered it was a place. Orlando? No. Then I figured out it was a country name. Somewhere in Africa maybe? Turns out it was the Japanese pronunciation of "Holland." Burajiru (Brazil), Indo (India), and many others tripped me up in Japanese at some point. They may as well just go with the names derived from Kanji, since they might eb easier to decipher that way, IMHO.

arana July 23, 2004, 3:55pm

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basically (without wishing to disagree with any of the above comments), it all just comes down to dialect/pronunciation. In England, a person from Birmingham says Britain in an entirely different way to someone from Cornwall. I am from Leicester myself, and while Leicesterites pride themselves as 'having no accent' it is obvious when we come back from our holidays that we DO have an accent, and it is a horrible, ignorant one at that. I don't know if people in Japan from different prefectures have different accents. I've never been.

anarchy July 31, 2004, 8:41am

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Adam Rice has come closest to addressing the "Wiener" vs. "Viennese" issue, but has got it backwards. In German, the letter "W" is pronounced as an English "V," hence "Wien" is pronounced somewhat like "Veen," and the adjective "wiener" is pronounced more or less as "veener."

Anglicized, the term "wiener" has taken on its current english pronunciation ("weener"), but that has come to be known as a noun referring to a specific food, not the english version of the adjective "wiener." So there are three options when referring to the troublesome coffee name:

1) Wienerkaffee (would be German form, pronounced more or less "veenerkaffay").

2) Wiener coffee, with "wiener" pronounced with a "V".

3) Most likely, just "Viennese coffee".

(My fiancée, having just read this post, has said, "You know who the wiener is? It's *you*." Guess I have too much time on my hands!)

bjhtn August 2, 2004, 8:59am

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All countries do that. "The Unites States" in French is "Les Etats Unis". The UK is "L'Angleterre". "Germany" in French is "L'Allemagne" while Germans call it "Deutchland". Switzerland in French is "La Suisse". Mosow in French is "Moscou" and it's actually "Moskva" in Russian. Kopenhagen is actually something like "København". "Holland" in French is "Les Pays Bas", the locals there -- "les Hollandais", for which the English is "Dutch". Who knows why? Just because, I guess. A bunch of historical accidents.

Why everyone laughed, I'm not sure; it depends on how this particular kind of drink is actually called -- there'd be nothing out of the ordinary if it were in fact "Weiner coffee", after all, we have "consommé" and "hors d'oeuvres" -- even in English. Btw, "weiner" is also slang for "penis".

no August 6, 2004, 8:43am

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I thought everyone already knew what bjhtn said about the "Wiener" issue. The odd thing about it is that the city's name is probably the only thing not changed dramatically by the Viennese accent (which is quite pleasant, I think).

Along with the various Anglicized meanings of "Wiener", I'd also add an antiquated (ca. 1950's) connotation. If someone was dubbed a "Weener", it meant someone nerdy, small, geeky, probably annoying and a few other negative things. In America, it often has the meaning "penis" but particularly, a small one, as opposed to other slang words for large ones. This is probably due to the hors d'oeuvre item "Viennese sausage", known for their tiny size. Also called "cocktail franks", I can only think of one person who ever used this term to describe a man's penis. This was Tom Hanks in the film "Volunteers", as he insulted a Chinese warlord who held him captive. A bold move!

It's interesting that many of these also derive from German words, often by way of Yiddish/German.

Gwynhwyfar August 15, 2013, 3:40pm

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Dyske as others have raised, simply longer shared history => more chances to be lost in translation. Just look at many place names of Chinese place names that follow Japanese pronunciation rules for the Kanji/Hanzi. Is the name for China pronounced "Chugoku"
I doubt it and I know that "Korea" is "ハングク" hanguk, not "カンコク" kankoku
Even European names are not consistent--
スペインx => エスパニャ
スウェーデンx => スヴイリイァ
英国x イギリスx => "UK" / "Great Britain" / "England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland"
There is no such country as "Igirisu"
However this idea that "our country does everything better" even if it's "we show more respect to other countries, than any other country" is an inherently racist idea. And that national hubris is sadly particularly common in my beloved Japan.

Gerardo March 1, 2014, 3:58am

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Great, thank you! Very helpfull

Eliska October 3, 2016, 5:29am

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Yes     No