About "about"

Good friends, I give you: the about-minute.

This is not something that spun loose during translation. The "about-minute" here is a straight calque of the Japanese 約分. This sign is asserting, apparently seriously, that it is correct to say "The train ride from Yokohama to here takes twenty about-minutes", and that the same is true of the equivalent structure in Japanese.

My native-speaker sense rejects the English version -- admiring nevertheless its ingenuity -- and I have my doubts about the Japanese one, too. I can't find any websites that use "(number)約分" more than once on the same page (except for sites using it in its other sense, "reduce [a fraction"), but I can find plenty of sites with a few "約(number)分" ("about (number) minutes") and just one "(number)約分", suggesting strongly that these cases are just typos.

Still, non-standard in both English and Japanese as this usage seems to be, I think it's brilliant. "About-minutes" are bold and concrete where their insubstantial cousins, "minutes (approximate)" are timid and hypothetical. Plus, "about-minutes" are totally commutable: if you define the "about" part to mean "+/- 10%", then sixty about-minutes do indeed add up to one about-hour, and so on.

Bonus information! "About" itself exists in Japanese as a loan word: an adjective/adverb (depending on trailing particle) meaning "rough[ly]", "vague[ly]", "flexibl[y]", "half-assed[ly]"... clearly, any definition of abauto must itself be abauto, but here's a fine visual representation of the concept: a "chō abauto" floor guide for some store somewhere. (Chō means "very".)

Popularity factor: 5


I actually think I've used the word "about-minute" once or twice, but I'm just that kind of person.

But if by some insane miracle this spread... I'd be that kind of person.


You think very deeply. First time I saw it I just thought of it as a bad translation.

"Approx. time (min.)", or even "Minutes (approx.)" would work better for me.


First they tell us how to write people's names, now they're making up their own English words and phrases...what next? Will we be required to place terms of address AFTER the names of Japanese people? Will dropping articles and dispensing with number and subject-verb agreement become optional?

Enough of this linguistic nationalism, I tell you. Enough!



By definition, a translation that entertains me cannot be bad in any meaningful sense!

IDR: I hope so... subject-verb agreement are such a pain.


Be such a pain, perchance?

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