[Japanese] 無料

Free! (last frame, see you next summer)

Most of us have heard of Free!, the anime series from Kyoto Animation that sent fangirls internationally spiralling into craziness. However, it wasn’t until today that I was keenly aware that although 『フリー』 appears to be used a lot, a casual search of the kanji for ‘free of charge’ will see it used quite frequently on the internet for promoting free software.

Looking it up today, ‘free of charge’ in Japanese is 『無料』 or 『むりょう』. Interesting to note if you’re looking for any free stuff out and about to save yourself a few yen here and there.

However this word isn’t all it seems when you attempt to read it from a Chinese perspective — that is if you look at its meaning as read by a Chinese person. As in some previous examples, it just so happens that this word which can be largely positive in Japanese, just so happens to have a negative Chinese meaning.

One has to wonder if the Chinese people of the past enjoyed trolling, even before the term existed.

『無料』 as read by a Chinese person would read as “mou4 liu6” or “mou4 liu2” in Cantonese and “wu2 liao4” in Mandarin. Meaning either there is no substance (suggesting there is nothing that is free), or implies someone is uneducated, uncultured or worthless if used in description of someone.

There is something important to note here though, which is the meaning of ‘worthless’. Just because something is worthless doesn’t necessarily correspond to free though, and vice versa even though the words can be said to be close in meaning. Perhaps this is just another case of where half remembered words suddenly take on a new meaning with different interpretation.

Calling your wonderful, yet free, product as worthless is somewhat unfortunate though.

Screencap from Anime Free! by Kyoto Animation. Post has nothing to do with the anime contents, but merely borrows the name to the series as an opening.