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I was trying to tell a Japanese friend that I am studying particle physics, but I didn't know the word for this branch of physics, so I looked it up online.

From what I could find, it should be 粒子物理学, but then he told me that he believes it should be 素粒子物理学 instead.

Why, and what is the difference between the two?

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    It is 粒子物理学 in Chinese, 素粒子物理学 in Japanese.
    – alephalpha
    Mar 28 at 2:54
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    It's mildly interesting that the branch that deals with fundamental particles (素-粒子) is called particle physics. If I had to guess, 粒子物理学 sounds like physics for grains, like sand.
    – Yosh
    Mar 29 at 5:11

1 Answer 1

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It is not about difference but about an accepted translation for the subarea of physics.

In different contexts, the English word particle may or may not be translated into the Japanese 粒子, but particle physics is always 素粒子物理学. Most people who know physics can guess what you mean by 粒子物理学, but it is just unidiomatic.

For another example, solid-state physics would be 固体状態物理学 if literally translated, but the accepted translation is 固体物理学.

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