I first learned of this loanword on /r/FalseFriends. Wiktionary:


From English smart.

Adjectival noun

スマート (-na inflection, rōmaji sumāto)

  1. slim, trim, slender
  2. stylish
  1. What type of semantic shift is this?

  2. Please see the titled question.

  • 4
    Well, 'smart' in English can mean 'well-dressed'. Maybe it's more common here in England though.
    – Angelos
    Dec 27, 2018 at 1:53
  • I don't think it's that regional. Normal to hear "you're looking smart" or something to that effect.
    – Leebo
    Dec 27, 2018 at 1:54
  • In the 70s-90s, most electrical appliances got smaller and smarter every time new model's released. I guess their advertisement tells something like よりスマートに to tell that it has a powerful processor or something like that but people misunderstand as slim,trim because most of the time, they get smaller too.
    – suish
    Dec 27, 2018 at 2:39
  • 1
    I'm not sure what shift you are referring to. "smart" has had such a meaning in English for a long time. Someone who is smartly dressed, for example. Just expressed strictly as a loanword.
    – user3169
    Dec 27, 2018 at 6:18

1 Answer 1


This is not a semantic shift nor are they false friends. In English, smart has several distinct meanings. It has been used for to look stylish for a long time. It is still used for this meaning, albeit less commonly and mainly in British English varieties. Using it for intelligence is more colloquial and has developed more recently (and is more common in American English varieties).

smart adjective (STYLISH) mainly UK

having a clean, tidy, and stylish appearance.

smart adjective (INTELLIGENT) mainly US

intelligent, or able to think quickly or intelligently in difficult situations.

Cambridge Dictionary

Oxford Dictionary

The Japanese スマート has been derived from the original meaning. Of course, the Japanese language is changing as well, it is now also used for smartphones, just as it is in English.

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