After reading Mark Graban’s post, 10 Things I Wish Lean Practitioners Wouldn’t Say in 2010 on his Lean Blog, I thought it was interesting that 4 of the 10 things were aimed against using Japanese terms. Mark clearly states he is not opposed to Japanese terms but asks if we might be “getting a bit carried away in embracing Japanese words.” He further suggests that we should avoid using Japanese words in an English-speaking environment, and just use simple, plain English.
But perhaps simple, plain English is not what we believe it to be. Although it is difficult be exact with our dynamic and expanding vocabulary, it is estimated that over 80% of our English vocabulary has come from other languages (source: Wikipedia.com). Most of our English words come from Latin, French, Italian, and Greek origin to name a few. Due to contact with other cultures over the centuries in conquests, commerce, travel and immigration, the English language has adopted or derived many words into our fold. As our world gets smaller and contact increases with the speed of the internet and television, I can easily speculate that our “English” language will add many more words in the future and at a much faster rate.
If we choose the path of halting the spread of Japanese words in our lean approach except for select few like kaizen or gemba, would we be promoting the status quo (oops, Latin)? Maybe we should form an ad hoc (Latin, again) committee to set a policy on the use of Japanese words in our company? If we can’t decide, we can leave it up to the head honcho (Japanese) to put the kibosh (Yiddish) on this glitch (Yiddish) in our improvement path.
Instead of sending our kids to Kindergarten (German) we should say we are sending them to Pre-First Grade. Or should we simply say we live on a quiet, dead-end street instead of a cul-de-sac (French)? Instead of going out for sushi (Japanese), let’s go out for some raw fish..yummy. States like California (Spanish) and Colorado (Spanish) would be shopping for new names. No more going out on Karaoke (Japanese) night , let’s just go out to the local bar to sing off key to taped music after drinking some liquid courage. We would also give up using words like café, chipotle, chocolate, ballet, protégé, entrepreneur, blasé, gaffe, whiskey, banana and mosquito.
My personal bias is to use the Japanese words in talking and teaching lean because I was taught by Japanese Sensei for the first 10 years of my lean journey. It has become second nature to me and I embrace the words as I embrace the lean thinking.
This does not mean that Japanese words need to be used by everyone, it is up to each person to decide on their own. The use of Japanese words is not to impress or exclude, it is just to seek greater understanding of the meaning. Hopefully we won’t get lost in translation.
Update added (1/7/2010)
There are certainly many great comments on this topic. Thanks to all!
Please check out these other posts on this topic by :
Mark Rosenthal's post on The lean Thinker
Brian Buck's post on Improve with Me
Ron Pereira's post on LSS Academy