What differences, if any, are there between the English word "memo" and the Japanese word "メモ"?

Does the Japanese word "メモ" have connotations to do with memorisation or memory that don't exist with the English word "memo"? Also, do native speakers of Japanese associate the word "メモ" with the English word "memory"?


3 Answers 3


I don't think that メモ is ever used to mean anything that translates to, or related to, the English word memory. As for me, I have always thought of its etymology as English memorandum, and every Japanese dictionary I have states it's what メモ derives from. Connection to memory (apart from the apparent relationship between memorandum and memory) never occurred to me.

That said, the English word that translates most closely to メモ is often said to be note. notepad.exe from Windows, for example, is メモ帳 in Japanese. メモ is a small (, usually personal) piece of paper that you write information you don't want to forget. (or the information you write on it.) If you pass around a メモ within office, it's most likely a non-official way of communication.

  • OK after posting this answer I think I got OP's point. I'm curious where these differences (メモ vs memorandum) comes from. メモ's usages as reminders does indeed lead to the question if it's related to memory. Although I think it's negative...
    – Yosh
    Jul 22, 2017 at 12:02
  • 2
    +1. memo/memorandum in legal contexts is 覚書 or 念書, not メモ.
    – naruto
    Jul 22, 2017 at 12:04
  • Would the dictionaries you have mention false etymologies if they existed, such as saying (in Japanese) "No, word X is not derived from word Y, even though it's a common misconception that it is"?
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 22, 2017 at 22:30
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm None that I have handy access to states that.
    – Yosh
    Jul 23, 2017 at 3:51
  • 1
    small... piece of paper that you write information you don't want to forget, maybe from the idea of a memo pad? Jul 25, 2017 at 1:51

There is no difference in terms of meaning.

Both words 「メモ」 and "memo" in respective languages have the primary meaning of a noun for "short note" (in general). The other meaning "memorandum" (in business) however, is not applicable to Japanese and only applicable to English counterpart (Details at below).

Direct answers

What differences, if any, are there between the English word "memo" and the Japanese word "メモ"?

No difference in terms of meaning.

In terms of usage however, the Japanese word counterpart could do verbing. So the sentence 「メモを取る」 can be expressed by a single word 「メモる」 to mean "to take note", albeit informal. You can look up in Japanese dictionaries (online, might not be found in printed).

Now try verbing with the word "memo" in English. Are you "memoing"? Even this entry on Wiktionary suggests that possibility, I can't seem to find the word "memoing" in English dictionaries to this answered date.

Does the Japanese word "メモ" have connotations to do with memorisation or memory that don't exist with the English word "memo"?

No, it doesn't.

Also, do native speakers of Japanese associate the word "メモ" with the English word "memory"?

No. At least I have never heard of any native Japanese using the word in such way. Japanese use either 「メモリ」 or 「メモリー」 to translate the English word "memory".

Finding related to "memory"

If the word 「メモ」 has anything to do with "memory", there is a suffix-forming noun in Japanese 「メモ化」 that is translated as "memoization" according to this entry on Wiktionary and this article on ウィキペディア.

The latter is linked to this article on Wikipedia, which briefly explains the origin of word and confusion between "memo-i-zation" and "memo-ri-zation".

The term "memoization" was coined by Donald Michie in 1968^ and is derived from the Latin word "memorandum" ("to be remembered"), usually truncated as "memo" in American English, and thus carries the meaning of "turning [the results of] a function into something to be remembered." While "memoization" might be confused with "memorization" (because they are etymological cognates), "memoization" has a specialized meaning in computing.

^ Michie, Donald, "Memo Functions and Machine Learning," Nature, No. 218, pp. 19–22, 1968.

Above all, there is slim chances of OP had misheard or misread the term "memorization" (for remembering) with "memoization" (in computing). The latter could have lead OP to the word 「メモ化」 which does not carry the same meaning as 「メモ」 despite sharing the same root word.

Updated 2017.09.13

Apparently, Japanese does not use 「メモ」 but 「覚書{おぼえがき}」 to mean "memorandum". This has been noted in this Japanese article on ウィキペディア. Although the former may be seen when explaining the actual word entry for "memorandum" i.e. this definition on コトバンク, these words 「メモ」 and 「覚書」 do not seem to be interchangeable.

  • 2
    I don't think "memorandum" in English business scenes and メモ in Japanese scenes are the same. This and this are totally different from what ordinary Japanese people consider a メモ.
    – naruto
    Jul 23, 2017 at 2:46
  • Had quick look up and updated my answer accordingly.
    – user15816
    Sep 13, 2017 at 5:50
  • 以下に示すオックスフォードオンライン辞書のmemory, memorizationあるいはmemorizeの定義を見ると、日本語の「メモ」もしくはそれの動詞である「メモる」には、英語のmemory,memorizationあるいはmemorizeの意味はないと思います。

  • 動詞「メモる」は、話などの全部ではなく要点を紙に書き留めるという意味ですが、「紙が無かったら頭にメモっておけ」という言い方もありますので、「記憶する」という意味合いもほんのわずかですがあるかもしれません。

  • この質問の回答を見ると「メモ」の語源は英語のmemoryだとありますし、私もそう思っておりました。しかし、大方{おおかた}の理解とは違って、語源としてのmemoryの意味は「メモ」にはないまま使われているのだと思います。EDIT:調べを進めるとメモの語源はmemoryではなくmemorandumであるようだが、それについては後で述べる。


Definition of memory in English:

noun 1 The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information. [mass noun] ‘the brain regions responsible for memory’

1.1 The mind regarded as a store of things remembered.

2 Something remembered from the past. 2.1 [mass noun] The remembering or commemoration of a dead person.

2.2 [mass noun] The length of time over which a person or event continues to be

3 The part of a computer in which data or program instructions can be stored for 3.1 [mass noun] A computer's capacity for storing information.

Definition of memorization in English:

see memorize

Definition of memorize in English:

Commit to memory; learn by heart.


OPの質問である「メモ」と英語の関係が簡単に解説されています。 英語と日本語の両方の言語に通じていると思われる人の記事ですので紹介します。


  • メモは英語ではnoteに当たるという点は納得です。
  • メモは日本語では「覚書」であるという解説には異論があります。「覚」「書」という漢字をみると何も問題がないように見えますが、実際には日本語の「覚書」は普段われわれは使いません、そして次のような意味があります。すなわち、国と国あるいは企業と企業の間で確認のために交わされる(要点だけの内容かもしれませんが、)正式な文書を指す場合に使われます。すなわち「2者間で交わされる」「正式な文書」です。一方日本語の「メモ」は「自分のために」「要点だけを書き留めたもの」です。かなり違います。
  • メモの語源はmemoであるという解説は大変ややこしい。色々調べると英語のmemoはmemorandumの省略でできた単語であると書かれているが、本来のmemorandumが持っていた日本語の「覚書」に近い意味以外にmemorandumが持っていなかった意味(A)を持っており、Aと「メモ」とは「覚書」と「メモ」よりは近そうである。だから「メモ」はmemoから来たかというと必ずしもそうではないと思う。「メモ」はやはり「memorandum」から来た外来語であって、その意味もその表記もmemorandumからかなりズレて今のものになっているものの、memoがmemorandumの省略からでき、更に、新たに「メモ」に近い意味を獲得したこととは偶然なのではないだろうか。
  • 記事の解説の判断から若干離れるが、メモに対する動詞のことに触れる。「メモを取る」と「メモをする」とはほとんど一緒である。どちらかと言うと「メモを取る」の方が自然に感じる。この2つの表現と似た意味で「メモ」から派生した動詞として「メモする」と「メモる」とがある。「メモする」と「メモる」を比べると、若干違いがある。「メモする」の方は、ほとんど「メモをする」と同じであるが、逆に言うと「メモする」は「メモをする」と同じで「メモをとる」より若干自然さに欠ける。不自然に聞こえるということは、「メモする」が一つの動詞としてまだ十分に確立していないとも言える。一方「メモる」はここここここに紹介されているように「メモする」よりあとに漫才家が作った動詞だと思われるが、動詞として不自然さがない、また、「メモ」には全くないmemorizeのニュアンスが少しある。これは「紙が無いけど、頭にメモるから大丈夫です」という表現や「頭にメモっておけ!」という表現が通用することでもわかる。ちなみに「頭にメモする」はなんだか不自然に聞こえるが、これは、前に説明した内容と矛盾しない。

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