Anime is pronounced ah-ni-may (specifically not a-nime), but why isn't it spelt that way?

I get why lots of English words sound nothing like how they are spelt, or how words from other languages retain Latin characters that had a different pronunciation originally, but how has a Japanese word (spelt アニメ) ended up with a confusing and non-phonetic English spelling?


3 Answers 3


Anime is the shorted form of animēshon, which is just the Romaji form (i.e., Japanese written in Roman letters) of the word "animation", which the Japanese adopted into their language with approximately English pronunciation. Check here.


In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

It is a phonetic spelling. It reproduces the sound of the Japanese word アニメ /a ni me/ in the Katakana syllabary. English spelling does not represent sounds at all well; it's so poor (it was designed for Middle English, after all) that nobody ever uses it when accurate phonetic transcription is needed. For that one uses Modern English phonemic symbols. In that phonetic spelling, the word would be /anime/. English spelling is not ready for prime time.


It's French, that's why. The original French spelling is animé. The Japanese have been enamored of everything French and, to a lesser extent, Italian, for a couple of centuries now. Just like everybody else.

anime (n.) c. 1985, Japanese for "animation," a word that seems to have arisen in Japan in the 1970s, apparently based on French animé "animated, lively, roused," from the same Latin source as English animate (adj.). Probably taken into Japanese from a phrase such as dessin animé "cartoon," literally "animated design," with the adjective abstracted or mistaken, due to its position, as a noun. - etymonline.com

  • Yeah, I'm a real big fan of French fries, for example.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 1, 2015 at 22:06
  • 2
    I still don't understand how you get caviar from a whale.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 1, 2015 at 22:13
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    I think this is wrong. The French word pronounced that way is animé, and it means lively, as in the other meaning of animated. I could be convinced otherwise by evidence. Got any? Please supply that along with a discussion of the claim that the Japanese "have been enamored"of the French for over 200 years. Touch on Commodore Perry's expedition in 1853. Thanks in advance.
    – deadrat
    Nov 1, 2015 at 22:21
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    This is wrong, although the English word animation was indeed taken from French. Nov 1, 2015 at 22:29
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    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Meh. The claim is yours about two centuries of Japanese Francophilia. Thus the burdens of proof and production are also yours. Your answer isn't so much wrong as ganz falsch. Please consider deleting it.
    – deadrat
    Nov 2, 2015 at 2:03

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