English by Engrish: learning ESL from others' mistakes


Welcome! Eco = Green

"We Build ECO" signHello and welcome to English by Engrish!
Here you will learn from others’ mistakes to improve your own English speaking and writing. English by Engrish teaches English by looking at examples of Engrish (mistaken English written by non-native speakers). You can learn how to write the sentence correctly, and why (grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation). You’ll also learn to recognize Wasei Eigo (和製英語, Japanese words that are derived from English or other languages but are not used in English-speaking countries) and learn the correct English translations of these words and phrases.

Our first example is this sign posted in Tokyo, which proudly reads “We Build ECO.” A native English speaker would read this and wonder, “huh?” Many Japanese do not know that eco エコ is a Wasei Eigo shortened from エコロジー “ecology” or “ecology movement.”

While “ecology” is an English word, Americans do not associate it with constructing buildings, or habits that we consider good for the environment, such as recycling or biking instead of driving. The English word “ecology” means the academic study of the science of living beings and their relationships with their environments.  Also, “ecology” is a noun; we cannot build an ecology like we can build a building. “Ecology movement,” meaning the popular social movement based on environmental protection, is correct English… however, most Americans have never heard of this obscure phrase.

The words that we know and use in everyday English are “green,” “environmentally-friendly,” and “environmentalism.”

“Green” is the main vocabulary word.  It is an adjective which means good for, or minimizing a negative impact on, the environment.  People with this lifestyle are green. Their hobby is “being green.” Buildings that are intentionally constructed in ways to avoid harming the environment are green. The standard measure for green buildings is to be LEED-certified (LEED is the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED has various levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

To translate this sign into English, it could say:

  • “We Build Green”  <— this sounds catchy
  • “We Build Environmentally-Friendly”  <– this is more grammatically-correct, because “friendly” is an adverb, so it means, “We build in an environmentally-friendly way.”  English does not have “green” as an adverb so, unfortunately, we cannot write, “We build greenly.”

Other phrases that could work would be:

  • “We are Green”
  • “Environmentally-Friendly Designs Built Here”

Do you like being green?



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