‘San’ is not an English word!

I feel a little strange launching into a rant after such a long break from posting, but I felt the need to vent on this particular pet peeve of mine.

‘San’ or (さん) is an honorific in Japanese. I won’t go into the complexities of when you should and shouldn’t use it or when you should use ‘chan’, ‘sama’ or ‘sensei’. The point I would like to make is that it isn’t English. In multi-national companies in Japan it seems to be accepted practice to put ‘San’ after a person’s name when emailing in English. Presumably this began as some kind of concession to the cultural norms in Japan without having to go to the effort of actually writing Japanese. Something else that is strange is that I can’t think of any other situation in which you would use the local honorific when communicating in English. If you wrote to a German colleague in English would you begin with ‘Hi Frau Helga’? Another reason this has probably perpetuated is simple because both sides misunderstand how and when to use the honorifics in the other language. On the flip side, I feel a little strange when a Japanese contact emails me (in Japanese) with just my name with no honorific – which is basically compulsory in Japanese business email. There’s an easy solution for all this confusion – stick to the rules of the language. If a Japanese writer feels they need to use an honorific, how about ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’?

Before anyone comes down on me being a language pedant, I mean this only for written communication. If you start a spoken sentence with ‘Dave san’ who is to say if it’s ‘San’ or ‘さん’? It’s spoken, and in spoken English the rules are made to be broken. However, use of ‘san’ in English communication is just perpetuating confusion and giving people a false sense that they are actually making an effort to understand Japanese.