Tag Archives: One Piece

Wordplay

I geek out about linguistics. I love when people remix language to do creative things. They get bonus points if use more than one language (two of my favorite Christmas carols are "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Nowell Sing We"). I saw another example today that really amused me.

Monet from One Piece, a woman with the wings and legs of a bird, wearing a green tank top that reads "happy".
Monet, who is several puns.

The writer of the Japanese comic/cartoon One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, loves to put random English words on his characters' clothing.  In the most recent storyline, there is a woman named Monet who has the wings and legs of a bird.  She also wears a tank top with the word "HAPPY" on it.

Oda is fond of wordplay and puns, and this is a great example.  The obvious joke is that HAPPY is only one stroke away from HARPY, the half-woman-half-bird creature from Greek myth. In Japanese, there's a second bit: the transliteration of English "happy" is ハッピ (literally "happi"), while "harpy" is rendered ハーピ (literally "haapi"). The pronunciations are nearly identical; the only distinction is whether the vowel or the subsequent consonant is long.

But here's the thing: the wordplay doesn't work at all for Oda's monolingual Japanese fans.  Harpies aren't native to Japanese folklore.  Japanese doesn't borrow its official word for the mythological creature from English either.  In Japanese, it's ハルピュイア ("harupyuia"), from the Ancient Greek ἅρπυια, so you have to be familiar with the English spelling and pronunciation to be in on the joke.