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The BOJ seems to like this word and it is translated as either "epoch-making" or "groundbreaking"

Original Japanese sentence:

この点、日本銀行は、1月の金融政策決定会合において、自らの判断で「物価安定の目標」を消費者物価の前年比上昇率2%と定め、これをできるだけ早期に実現するという画期的な約束をしました。

Official translation:

At the Monetary Policy Meeting held in January, the Bank -- on its own judgment -- set the price stability target at 2 percent in terms of the year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) and made a groundbreaking commitment to achieve that target at the earliest possible time.

In other places the BOJ has translated this as "epoch-making." But epoch-making events to a native English speaker would mean like ... the fall of Rome rather than a small change in the policy of a central bank.

I get the basic etymology of what's going on with the Japanese but I have a two-part question arising from this:

(1) Does this word's meaning really rise to the level of creating a new epoch in Japan? (2) What more natural equivalent can you think of for the English?

Examples always help!

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1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The term 画期的 in its definition refers to an event so momentous that it heralds the start of a new age (時代). The term epoch making, from what I can tell, appears to exist in Japanese as エポックメイキング, which might be why that English definition is attached to it. Indeed, in English such an event could be described as 'epoch making.'

But it's metaphorical in Japanese. We reserve the term epoch making for events like those listed in the question. But what about trivial things that can usher in a new era? It's the same sort of concept, I think. Epoch making could be a literal translation, but it doesn't have the same nuance.

Perhaps in Japanese the term epoch making has been taken and modified to fit that level. Googling "epoch making" in English will give you pages of results for the meaning of the expression, but very few examples of it actually being used, yet 大辞泉 has エポックメイキング in its definition for 画期的.

A more appropriate term would be revolutionary, or groundbreaking, or maybe even game changing. These don't carry nearly the sense of scale and gravity that the term "epoch making" inspires in English. 画期的 obviously, as used in the BOJ example, is not conveying something on the level of the fall of Rome. That's why the translation provided uses "groundbreaking" instead.

This is why I think that revolutionary is a good choice. We call a lot of things revolutionary even though the actual concept of a revolution is pretty grandiose.

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game changing was what I thought of but did not include it in the question to avoid biasing it. –  virmaior Feb 6 at 4:58
    
I actually hadn't felt it was common -- someone on english.se said Japanese people often say this in English to which I said not in my experience. Apparently the BOE uses it not too infrequently in their speeches. –  virmaior Feb 6 at 5:29

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