Grand Concise Japanese-English Dictionary


An Informal Review

by Tom Gally


『グランドコンサイス和英辞典』(Grand Concise Japanese-English Dictionary, 三省堂, June 2002, 2,528 pages, 7,000 yen plus tax, ISBN 4-385-10905-2)


When I first heard about this dictionary in April 2002, I was very excited. I was told that it would have over 200,000 entries, making it one of the largest commercially edited and published Japanese-English dictionaries ever and the first new large J-E dictionary to be published in decades. Although I expected the dictionary to be aimed at native speakers of Japanese, I was hopeful that it would be a useful reference for non-Japanese as well. And since Sanseido's kokugo dictionaries, especially 大辞林 and 三省堂国語辞典, are among the best, I thought that the quality of those dictionaries might rub off on this one.


I had heard a couple of negative comments about the format of this dictionary's companion volume, the Grand Concise English-Japanese Dictionary (2001)--in particular, that some people had found the typeface cramped and hard to read--so I was pleasantly surprised by the layout and design of this book. While the type is small, I find it clear and easy to read, and two-color printing is used effectively to highlight the headwords. The paper is sufficiently opaque, and despite the number of pages the book is light and easy to handle. At 7,000 yen, it is reasonably priced for a dictionary of its size.


Within a minute or two of flipping through the dictionary, I confirmed that it was aimed at native speakers of Japanese. The introductory matter is in Japanese only. There is no kanji or jukugo index. And while no grammatical information is provided about Japanese words, there are tables of irregular English verbs and nouns in the back and English nouns in definitions are marked for their countability status. This should be expected: The vast majority of users of Japanese-English dictionaries are native speakers of Japanese, so commercial publishers naturally direct their efforts at that large market. While nonnative students and users of Japanese can benefit from this and similar dictionaries, they should remember that such books are not designed to meet their specific needs.


According to the paper slip around the dictionary's case (the おび, a word not defined in this sense in the dictionary itself; another Japanese-English dictionary glosses the word as "narrow book wrapper"), this book contains 210,000 entry words, including both headwords and related words, and 110,000 example sentences. Since the large kokugo dictionaries such as 大辞林 or 広辞苑 are said to contain around 230,000 entries, this suggests that Grand Concise should have equally complete coverage of Japanese vocabulary.

A quick glance through the pages, though, shows where many of Grand Concise's entries come from. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

ハードタイムズトークン 【米史】 (代用硬貨) a Hard Times token

ハモントン Hammonton 《米国New Jersey州南部の町》

ピケンズ Pickens, Andrew (1739-1817) 《独立戦争時の米国の将軍》

In case you're not an expert on American numismatics, Hard Times tokens were coins issued in the United States during financial crises in the mid-19th century. Hammonton, New Jersey, is a town with a population of 12,604. Andrew Pickens, as the entry helpfully explains, was a general in the American Revolution.

Here are some company names that appear in this dictionary:

ジェネラルアクシデント General Accident 《英国の生命保険会社》

シーエムエスエナジー CMSエナジー CMS Energy 《米国の電力・ガス関連の持株会社》

シェーリング・プラウ Schering-Plough 《米国の医薬品・健康用品メーカー》

Here are some company names that do not appear in this dictionary:

ソニー (Sony Corporation)

新日本製鐵 (Nippon Steel Corporation)

森永製菓 (Morinaga & Co., Ltd.)

In other words, three fairly obscure companies outside Japan merit entries in this dictionary, while three leading Japanese companies do not. Not by coincidence, Sanseido's Grand Concise English-Japanese Dictionary has entries for General Accident, CMS Energy, and Schering-Plough but does not list Sony, Nippon Steel, or Morinaga. It also has entries for Hard Times token, Hammonton, and Andrew Pickens.

For a large English-Japanese dictionary, including such proper names makes sense. Japanese readers may encounter those words in their reading and want to identify them. But who on earth is going to want to know how to say ハードタイムズトークン or ハモントン or ピケンズ in English?

Clearly this Japanese-English dictionary has been padded with thousands of terms taken wholesale from the publisher's English-Japanese dictionary, terms that have no reason to be in a Japanese-English dictionary. Meanwhile, many terms that should be in this dictionary are not. So while the dictionary claims to have 210,000 entries, the number of actually useful entries--that is, words that Japanese speakers are likely to want to know how to say in English--is perhaps only half that many. This dictionary, while still large and useful, now seems much smaller than it first appeared.


I did a quick survey of the dictionary's entries in two ways: I checked whether and how it handled certain problematic words, particularly those that have been treated in jeKai or discussed on the Honyaku mailing list, and I read all of the entries on several randomly chosen pages and looked for any problems that caught my eye.

First the good news. Some entries that have been poorly handled by other dictionaries are treated adequately by this dictionary. Three examples are フロン, 六曜, and 風俗: フロン is not mistranslated as "flon" or "fleon," as it has been in other dictionaries in the past (though there is nothing for 特定フロン); the 六曜 entry would be useful to a Japanese person who wanted to explain the meaning in English; and the 風俗 entry includes the subentry 風俗嬢 "a girl who works in the sex industry," which at least mentions in passing the most common meaning of 風俗 in contemporary Japanese.

However, in more cases I was disappointed. The "consumer" meaning of 民生用 is absent, as is the "kanji invented in Japan" meaning of 国字. Both 軽油 and 重油 are poorly translated; the "diesel oil" meaning of 軽油 is absent, and the "crude [raw] petroleum; heavy oil" gloss for 重油 is a mistake--crude petroleum is 原油, not 重油. There is no entry for the increasingly ubiquitous ICカード, which is normally called a "smart card" in English (though there is an entry for スマートカード, another example of an entry clearly taken from the English-Japanese dictionary). ソフト化 is mistranslated as "softening of the economy"; ソフト化 refers to the shift away from manufacturing to an information- and service-based economy, while "softening of the economy" means an economic slowdown. 直下型地震 copies the mistranslation of other dictionaries ("an epicentral earthquake"). The "potty" meaning of おまる is missing. There's no entry for シーズ (even though this word, like 民生用, is found in Sanseido's own 大辞林) or 消費(者)マインド "consumer confidence." フレッシャー is translated as "a fresher" and フレッシュマン as "a freshman," both of which are misleading (the Japanese words are often used to mean "a newly hired career-track company employee," while the English words normally do not have that meaning). And there's nothing for ものづくり.


While the dictionary intends to mark whether English nouns are countable, in just a few minutes of skimming I spotted many mistakes. Some correct examples are the following three from pages 2028-2029:

プレビュー a preview

ブレンドウィスキー (a) blended whiskey

フロギストン説 phlogiston theory

Thus "preview" is a countable noun, "blended whiskey" may be either countable or uncountable, and "phlogiston theory" is normally uncountable.

But on the same two-page spread are the following entries:

フレンチアーチ French arch
[Should be "a French arch."]

ジャクージ Jaccuzi
[in the entry for 風呂. Should be "a Jacuzzi"; note the misspelling, too.]

フロアリミット 【商業】(小切手・カードの) floor limit
[Should be "a floor limit."]

プロシージャ 【コンピュータ】 procedure
[Should be "a procedure" or "(a) procedure."]

I also ran into a number of article and singular/plural mistakes. For example:

主イデアル【数学】the principal ideal
[Should be "a principal ideal." Principal ideals are not unique.]

A few lines earlier on the same page:

樹医 a tree surgeon who cares for famous or ancient tree
[Should be "trees," and "or" should be "and."]


Overall, the English translations of the example sentences are natural, idiomatic English and show the input of native English speakers. But in just an hour or so of browsing I spotted many problems, including unnatural English and English translations that do not correspond to the Japanese. In the following examples, the headword is highlighted.

パートを時給800円で雇う hire a part-timer by 800-yen-an-hour payment
["...for 800 yen an hour" would be much more idiomatic.]

うちの息子はインターネットでエッチなホームページばかり見ている My son just uses the Internet to log into the porno homepage.
["log into" isn't quite right, "porno" is less common than "porn" or "pornographic," the definite singular "the ... homepage" is wrong, and "Web sites" would be better than "homepage."]

授業なんかサボって、映画に行こうよ Let's cut classes, and go watch that movie instead.
[Why "that" movie? "Let's cut classes and go see a movie instead" would be better.]

ロックの世界にジャンルをもたらした It has created a genre in the world of rock music.
[Too literal. Try "It has created a new style of rock music" instead.)

首位を譲る give up one's first place
["one's" should be deleted.]

手のが伸びているわね Your fingernails are getting long, aren't you?
[Should be "aren't they," at least in my dialect of English.]

新聞記者は続々首相官邸に詰めかけた Reporters flocked to the premier's official residence.
[Shouldn't that be "Newspaper reporters..."?]


Even the entries that Sanseido is using to advertise the dictionary are not very good. Under the headline「現代社会のあらゆる分野から幅広く収録」, the おび of the copy that I bought lists the following 18 examples: 構造改革, カミングアウト, ジェンダー, 地ビール, 降順, 着信音, デフレスパイラル, ワークシェアリング, 画像圧縮, 全角, 半角, 添付ファイル, 文字化け, ルーター, ペイオフ, シアトルマリナーズ, シカゴブルズ, and エンロン. Checking each of these entries, I noticed the following problems:

構造改革 structural reform 《of a political party》
["structural reform" should be "(a) structural reform," as the term is used as both a countable and an uncountable noun. And while there is nothing wrong with the example collocation 《of a political party》, I think that《of the government》 or 《of the economy》 would be more appropriate if this entry is supposed to represent how the term is used in Japan today.]

カミングアウト a coming-out
[Should be "coming-out," "(a) coming-out," or "one's coming-out." I would check a corpus or the Web before deciding which to choose, but I doubt that the countable-only usage is the most common.]

降順 a descending order
[Should be "descending order" or "(a) descending order."]

着信音 (携帯電話の) a ringer [ring] tone of a cell phone
[Not wrong, but the one-word spelling "ringtone" is probably the most common now. The entry for 携帯電話 is "a portable telephone; a cell [cellular] phone"; it would have been nice if it had included "a mobile (phone)," which seems to be the most common term outside North America.]

デフレスパイラル the deflationary spiral
[Should be "a deflationary spiral."]

全角 【印刷】 an em ▲全角の em
半角 【印刷】 an en; an en quad ▲半角の 【印刷】 en. [複合] 半角数 【印刷】 ennage/半角ダッシュ 【印刷】 an en dash/半角文字 half point characters
[If we assume that 全角 and 半角 are terms that describe Japanese fonts, then these entries are completely wrong. The usual terms are "full-width" and "half-width." "em" and "en" describe Roman fonts, not Japanese fonts. And I have no idea where the term "half point characters" came from.]

添付ファイル 【コンピュータ】 an attachment (file) | 〜ファイルを開く open an attachment
[Not bad, but "an attached file; an attachment" would be better.]

文字化け 【コンピュータ】 garbling (of text); an illegal character; garbled characters; (文字化けした文書) a garbled text
[Again not bad, but the word "corrupted" is used more often than "garbled."]

ペイオフ (預金の払い戻し) a payoff
[This is completely wrong. As explained here, ペイオフ does not mean 預金の払い戻し in Japanese and it certainly doesn't mean "payoff" in English.]

Thus, of the 18 entries that Sanseido is plugging for this dictionary, 10 have problems and several are fatally flawed.


Needless to say, I am disappointed in this dictionary. While it does contain many useful entries and examples, the padding with foreign proper nouns and other words taken from its English-Japanese predecessor is unnecessary and misleading. The mediocre coverage of problematic words suggests that not much effort was made to improve the definitions over previous dictionaries. And there are many more errors than one should expect even in the first printing of a new dictionary. Over time, readers may find that the Grand Concise Japanese-English Dictionary is superior in some ways to other Japanese-English dictionaries, but it is already clear that it is not nearly as good as it should be.


Two months before I wrote the above review, I began working part-time on the fifth edition of Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (新和英大辞典), and I continued to be involved in that project until the book's publication in July 2003. I do not believe that my work on the Kenkyusha dictionary influenced my assessment of the Sanseido dictionary, but some readers may draw a different conclusion. In any case, had the Sanseido dictionary been published a year later, after I had become more deeply involved in the Kenkyusha project, I would not have written the above review.

Written June 16, 2002. Evaluation of おび words added June 17, 2002. Disclaimer added July 10, 2003.