Cups and glass

Today’s post is not purely focussed on translation; that is not to say however, that there will be no translation included in the post.

As anybody reading this who speaks Japanese would know, there are many words in the Japanese language that are borrowed from other languages. These are known as 外来語. (gairaigo; loan words) Loan words are written in the Katakana script. While many loan words are borrowed from the English language (such as テレビ terebi meaning television), there are some loan words that come from other languages. (such as アルバイト arubaito meaning “part time job” which comes from the German word arbeit which means “work” or “labor”) While most of these words only ever have one way to write it in Katakana, there is the odd word where two or more different ways of writing the word are used.

The other day I had a question from a friend who just began studying Japanese last year and has made some excellent progress already. In his study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, he was looking at vocabulary—some of which were 外来語. He first asked me why the word “glass” was sometimes written as ガラス (garasu) and other times as グラス (gurasu). Although i’ve studied Japanese for a long time, and I was well aware of both  transcription methods, I had never considered if there was any difference between the two until my friend asked this question. Therefore, I decided to Google the topic; I did so in Japanese in hopes that I would get some responses from Japanese native speakers and this was what I found:

The post reads:

The difference between グラス and ガラス.

ステンドグラス (sutendo gurasu; stained glass) and ステンドガラス (sutendo garasu; stained glass) is likely said to merely be a difference of Katakana transcription; however, you can drink wine from a
グラス (gurasu) but you can’t drink wine from a ガラス (garasu). I looked in to the difference between the two.

Several opinions:
・A グラス is a cup made out of ガラス
・That cup is fundamentally a cylindrical object used to drink things such as water.
・If it’s a cup with legs, it’s ゴブレット. (goburetto; goblet)
・A cup with a flat bottom is a タンブラー (tanburaa; tumbler)
・グラス and ガラス are both Japanese transcriptions of the English word, “glass”.
・A cup (コップ;koppu) is a cup (カップ; kappu) <As you can see, another word with two different transcriptions but more on this later)

The below is my (the writer of the above Japanese text) opinion:
I believe that ガラス (garasu) refers to the material element of “glass” while グラス (gurasu) refers to a type of manufactured product made from glass.
However, I think it’s also the case that for a long period of time, the two different transcriptions have been misused and thus they are no longer differentiated.
An example of that is “stained glass.” The グラス (gurasu) in this case actually refers to ガラス (garasu).
But, like everyone says, a グラス (gurasu) is no doubt a cup made out of the material ガラス (garasu).

So, to sum up here:
・Both ガラス and グラス are used to refer to the English word “glass”
・The supposed difference is, however, that while ガラス refers to just the raw material, a グラス is a cup made out of ガラス where as in English we just refer to them both as glass.


My friend then asked about cup which is written as both コップ (koppu) and  カップ (kappu). Interested in the difference here too, I looked into it and found this.

It reads:

A コップ (koppu) is the general term to refer to a container/vessel used for drinks.
A カップ (kappu) is a コップ (kappu) with a handle used specifically for warm/hot drinks.
A グラス (gurasu) is a コップ (koppu) made from ガラス (garasu) referring to a cup without a handle used only for cold drinks.

コップ (koppu) comes from the English “cup” and is the general term for containers/vessels used for drinks. The presence of a handle or the material it’s made of is irrelevant. They’re all cups.

カップ comes from the Danish word “kop” (meaning, a container/vessel with a handle that is used for drinks).

In Japan, the Danish word “kop” and the English word “cup” have been mixed together, resulting in this complexness.

To sum this up:
・コップ (koppu): the general term for a cup no matter whether it has a handle or not, and caters for both hot and cold drinks.
・カップ (kappu): A cup with a handle only for hot drinks.


So that’s what I learned. Even this far into my language study, I had never really known this before and so I’m glad my friend asked as it spurred me to look into the differences in greater detail. Any Japanese speaking readers, what do you think? Would you agree with this? Let me know! Looking forward to comments or opinions.

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2 Responses to Cups and glass

  1. Jenny says:

    Excellent post. Thank you for the clarification!

  2. Mia says:

    This is just what I was looking for. Thank you!

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