If I want to translate the word "card" into Japanese, there's only one word in Katakana in Google Translation: カード. If I search the relevant Chinese word "卡片", there's still only one single result カード

I know that Japanese words borrowed from foreign languages would be written in Katakana. The main problem is how to know whether the word is borrowed from foreign languages?

I'm not surprised that words such as "coffee" or "computer" are borrowed as they are novel things arisen from recent centuries. However I'm extremely surprised that the word "card" is also borrowed as it is a very common object. Doesn't Japanese use any cards in ancient years?

The same issue confused me for other words such as "butterfly( バタフライ )", all which stand for very common objects but only have Katakana words.

  • But isn't 卡 a borrowing from English too? Oct 16, 2019 at 3:26
  • “卡” is just an example. How about "butterfly 蝴蝶"? Are they foreign animals imported into Japan in recent centuries?
    – billzt
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:48
  • 5
    It's not a good idea to rely on Google Translate as an authority. There are words of Japanese origin for cards.
    – Leebo
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:51
  • 2
    @billzt So that's where I'm confused. What is your question focusing on? The title doesn't look matching the body, and your second and third paragraphs contain seemingly mutually irrelevant questions. Oct 16, 2019 at 4:04
  • 3
    @billzt I would recommend a dictionary, not a machine translation tool.
    – Leebo
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:17

1 Answer 1


You have chosen a word that has a very wide range of meanings in English. Google tranlate has had to guess which meaning.

When you translate "card" do you mean:

  • A "western" playing card (a different borrowing, but adapted) : トランプ
  • A "Japanese" playing card: 札
  • A credit card: カード
  • Thick paper: カード 厚紙(Japanese have had paper for a long time, but Japanese traditional thick paper is rather different from the western product.)
  • A business card: 名刺
  • Cardboard: 段ボール

There are probably several more meanings to "card". There can be many reasons why the borrowed word displaced the native one: in this case there are distinctions between the native and the foreign forms (of thick paper, or playing cards) that are not made in English.

Similarly there is are native words for butterfly (蝶々) but when you are talking about a fashion design and not an insect then the borrowed word is felt to sound better.

There is no way to know if a given meaning will tend to use a word borrowed from English or a native Japanese word. When there are competing terms such as with 蝶々 or バタフライ, then there are nuances that distinguish between the words. Learning a language means learning these differences.

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