Let's say I'm a very young child and I love dessert. After my family goes out today, my dad is going to buy us ice cream; he needs to tell my mom in front of me, without me finding out. In English, he might spell it out like:

After ..., we'll go get some I-C-E C-R-E-A-M. (Eye see ee, see are ee eh emm.)

Since very young kids can't usually spell well enough to make out a message like this, it's encrypted to them but not to mom, who needs the information.

However, in Japanese, I feel like saying each kana of アイスクリーム would be equally obvious to the child as saying the word since, to my knowledge, kana do not have an alternative pronunciation to the sound they make.

How do parents obscure a Japanese word so that a very young child will not understand it?

  • 8
    Great question!
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


Each family would use its own method and all I know for certain is how mine handled the matter.

We used on-reading words, meaning kanji compounds, which small kids generally are not familiar with. We also "created" our own on-reading words in cases where the generic words were already on-reading ones. Our final weapon was to say the words in English (we both knew English) as if they were loanwords when it was difficult to create a word.

For アイスクリーム, we used [冷菓]{れいか}, which is an existing word but small kids would almost never know.

For お[菓子]{かし} (snacks), we used [軽食]{けいしょく} or [間食]{かんしょく}, both of which are existing words. 

For コーラ, I remember using my own creation [黒色炭酸飲料]{こくしょくたんさんいんりょう}, literally meaning "dark-colored carbonated drink". Both 黒色 and 炭酸飲料 are existing words but little kids would have no clue what they meant, either separately or combined.

For ポテトチップス, I proudly coined a ディープフライド[馬鈴薯]{ばれいしょ} but it was hard to say. 馬鈴薯 is a big word for じゃがいも (= "potato"), but a kid would usually need to be around 10-12 to know it.

  • 1
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 22:49
  • 1
    – user4032
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 22:52
  • 10
    @TokyoNagoya I think that perhaps they're referring to バビ語.
    – user1478
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 23:11
  • Ah! No, it was not used in my family but it MIGHT be used by some others to replace words if not whole sentences.
    – user4032
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 23:21
  • A little bit off-topic: I never knew about the ハビ語. In Romanian we have the same code game, but instead of b, we use p.
    – zdo
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 20:02

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