Introducing new terms to an old game

I have an issue with how some sites deal with mahjong terminology and names. You know what I mean? We’ve got EMA mistranslating score tables from “Iihan Yaku” to “1 Yaku” instead of “1-han yaku” (it goes on higher); we’ve got a whole community using completely fucked up English terms.

Now, don’t get me wrong, “13 Orphans” sound pretty cool. But if someone were to say that to me in a game, I’d go “huh?” instead of “oh shiiiit.” The fact is that some people learn the Japanese terms from the start (more power to you guys!), and some people … don’t. It’s the people that don’t that should, because when one site is trying to introduce their own terminology, things get messed up. A while back I wrote a list on 0x23mahjong, trying to find all the different names for things. It’s pure horror, is what it is. Not because I have a specific fondness of Japanese or anything, but because half of the time, the names don’t even make sense.

No, by introducing new terminology into an old game, you only serve to mess things up. Fact is that we’re playing a Japanese game. Sticking with the Japanese terminology makes the game universal – everyone knows the terminology. One site deciding “we can do this better than them Japanese peoples” (hint: you can’t) is without a doubt, monumentally stupid.

Mahjong is pretty old. It’s not as old as Go or Shogi, but it’s still pretty old. Changing terminology is a bit like walking into a museum and deciding that the shit that’s on display isn’t good enough for what it’s supposed to show, and instead you should bring in strobe lights and a heavy bass beat.

One of my favourite scoring sites has to be Wei-Hwa Huang’s Japanese Mahjong Scoring, and even that site has its own English terminology. But the difference is that it lists the Japanese terms at the same time. Oh, and it actually makes sense, compared to some other translation efforts I’ve seen.

One point made in defense of using an English terminology instead of a Japanese one is that it makes the game easier for beginners. It might, until they play with another group using a different set of English terms. See the problem? Now, there’s only one Japanese set. Why not use that? You don’t need to be able to pronounce it properly, but at least you’ll know what the fuck the guy across you is going on about, rather than sit there looking at him with a look of utter confusion on your face as he goes “Well, that’s all bumps, one blue dragon, one red drag… uh, that’s 4 hand points, and with a belly-buster wait makes it… uh, how many minipoints again?”

I know that Osamu was about to write something about’s new book (or rather, Jenn’s book), and how it mixes terms. Yeah, it does. In the excerpt alone it manages to mix English, Chinese and Japanese terms. Would have been easier to just stick to Japanese. Or, if you really have to create new terminology; stick with that alone then. Don’t mix “Chow”, “Quad” and “Pon” (three languages! how does she do it?), it simply looks bad. Sorry for stealing your post, Osamu.

17 thoughts on “Introducing new terms to an old game

  1. >> Fact is that we’re playing a Japanese game.

    Since the game is invented by the Chinese, I would contest this claim.

    If you’re specifically talking about Riichi Mahjong, then Japanese terminology certainly makes sense. But if you’re talking about mahjong in general, then you should really be using the Chinese terms, no? Japanese terminology is nowhere near universal.

    And speaking of walking into a museum and bringing strobe lights, that’s sorta what Riichi Mahjong did. Dora were, after all, only invented in the 1940’s.

  2. I’m pretty terrified to hear that Jenn is writing a book. When you’ve seen anything else she’s written about mahjong, you can only imagine the confusing horror that it’s going to end up as.

  3. I play mahjong in an English-speaking country. Therefore I speak English, not some foreign gobbledy-gook.

    (Also, “The Internet” counts as an English-speaking country.)

  4. @tako: It’s a pretty horrible book. I left a review on, after my initial review got rejected (apparently it’s not kosher to claim that it’s better to “buy a knife for the money instead of this book. Stabbing yourself repeatedly is probably going to be a lot more pleasurable than reading this book.”

    @linger: way to miss the point.

  5. drob you are really a sad human being. it must suck to feel like such a bloody failure in life that you have to act like arse to try and make everyone else feel as crappy as you do all the time.

    i hope you give up on this game soon. we really could use less tossers like you in this game.

  6. Funny thing – I don’t feel crappy at all. You seem to have some anger issues though. Should work on that – maybe by telling us your real alias instead of hiding behind something like that. Japanese IP, dislike me thinking badly of Jenn’s book.

    Either you’re Jenn, or you’re someone else. If you’re NOT Jenn, you’re hardly helping her case by letting us think that you could be. Own up now. You’re probably Hirohurl – “arse”, “bloody” and “tosser” is chiefly British English.

    Hi, Hirohurl. Welcome to :)

    1. What ho, drob old boy, I say, jolly good show! Cracking read, full of fizz, absolutely, you know! Got me so spirited I hove my crumpet at the butler.

      pip pip

  7. Hi Drob,

    This is obviously a very late response… I only realized I was under a false accusation when I checked my PMs on forum…

    I just want to assure you that it certainly wasn’t me who posted as “drob Says”

    1. For one thing I don’t do anonymity – I’m either hirohurl or some version of my regular name such as David Hurley, David, David H etc. I am not a coward and despise anonymous abusers such as “drob Says”.

    2. Yes, I’m British and I might use 4-letter words when out with friends, but I don’t do that sort of thing on website comments.

    3. I don’t have a problem with you. Have we disagreed on mahjong terminology on the RM forum? My own terminology is a bit different from and Jenn’s in her book, but actually I’m pragmatic and not fanatical about that. Also, I agree with your central point that for Riichi Maajan it would be preferable for everybody who wants to play in tournament games to learn the Japanese terminology.

    4. I have only just read Jenn’s book so would not have been able to offer any defence of it before this month. Yes, there are mistakes in it, especially some of the quizzes, and some signs of rushing to finish at the end.

    5. As someone who runs an online mahjong business, it isn’t in my interests to go around abusing others even if I wanted to.

    My guess is that it was someone who was passing by, or who is a lurker who wishes to defile the place with his filthy parbreak.

    Anyway, I can understand your annoyance. No hard feelings, etc, but it weren’t me, guv.

    Best wishes,

    David H

  8. Er sorry, not “drob Says” but “antidrob”, who also doesn’t know the difference between “less” and “fewer”.

    Drob, I’ve now read Jenn’s book and think I feel better for NOT taking your advice about the knife. I learnt some interesting stuff from it and also got an insight into somebody else’s insight into riichi mahjong. I don’t think it would be difficult to correct the errors for a second edition.

  9. Mahjong is actually thousands of years old; just the current version of mahjong is newer. So what, Chess and Shogi also a “newer” version of an older game.

  10. Mahjong is over 65 million years old because Raptor Jesus played it on the Jurassic Park.

    Just kidding. Mahjong doesn’t exist because Noah didn’t exist either.

  11. Having been teaching a little bit of ESL on a voluntary basis.

    The English language does some ridiculous things, especially when it comes to terminology. First of all, some words can mean many things, like the word “round”, for example. The word “round” may be used for “go-around”, “wind round”, or just plain “round”. Then some meanings are used by many words, like “runs”, “sequences”, and “straights” (all to describe “shuntsu”). If someone really wants the terminology done in English, then they have to be standardized.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.