It was inspiring to meet Matz, the creator of the Ruby language, and other Japanese Rubyists at last month’s RubyConf. Matz kindly recorded various phrases about Ruby in Japanese. Since then I’ve been working on learning katakana as an easy intro (perhaps) to the Japanese language.

For those who are unfamiliar with Japanese, katakana is one of two phonetic scripts used in Japanese writing, along with Kanji which is the pictographic script used for the majority of Japanese words. Katakana is used mostly for words which have their roots in foreign languages, so it is naturally used for many words having to do with software development. I asked a Japanese Rubyist why is the word for “Ruby” (the programming language) not a Japanese word — even when speaking and writing Japanese the word for Ruby is “Ruby.” She replied that if they used the Japanese word, it would be indistinguishable from the word for the jewel. They can easily google for “Ruby” and find Ruby language references in Japanese text. The Japanese effectively extend their language by adopting foreign-language words for new concepts and inventions, and end up making the language more expressive by creating a larger vocabulary.

Despite the fact that many things that I might want to say as a software developer find their origins in English words, without hearing them first in isolation I would probably not understand them if I heard them. So, in addition to learning from the excellent book All About Katakana, I am also developing a list of geek words that are written in Katakana.

I’ve noticed that most of the tweets I see from Japanese Rubyists are in katakana and I wonder if I learn to read this phonetic text whether I might actually understand them now and then or perhaps the twitter stream is yet another dialect.

Below is my short list of geek vocabulary words that I am learning now (with some mightyverse links if you want to hear them). Once I get a little farther along in my studies, I hope to get my Japanese friend Iku to record more words for me, so please comment with your favorite katakana words (or ones you would like to know if you are an English speaker and I’ll add them to my translate wish list).

te su to    
fu rei mu    
wa ku


オ ブ ジェ ク ト  
o bu je ku to    
do tsu to   
メ ソ ッ ド
me so tsu do



ハ ッ シュ
ha shu
ロ ケット
ro ke tto



te re bi
(it’s for television)

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