Lost in Translation - Move names from Japanese to English

By Kalalokki.
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Art by Cretacerus

Art by Cretacerus.


Why is Sucker Punch not boosted by Iron Fist? Why can't Ampharos learn Tail Glow? Why can Double Slap hit more than two times? Pokémon is known for being perceived as a bit illogical in regards to certain Pokémon's typings, weaknesses and resistances of typings, or even how a Skitty can produce offspring with a Wailord. But, when it comes to illogical move names and their odd distributions they can almost always be explained by the fact that Pokémon is originally a Japanese game, leading to some moves being a bit lost in translation. We'll be grouping these up into three categories: move names that were shortened/changed and therefore lost their quirk, translations that made sense at the time of the move's introduction, and just plain misleading ones. While some moves may be more or less interesting in some other languages, we'll only be looking at translations to English.

Lost their quirk


Guillotine is one of the OHKO moves introduced in Gen I with very limited distribution, despite the generic name that could refer to anything able to chop a head off its shoulders. But, in Japanese, the move is called ハサミギロチン Hasami Girochin and translates to Pincer Guillotine, justifying the move's small distribution to only Pokémon that have pincers.

Conversion and Conversion 2

The signature moves of the Porygon line look to be quite understandable: they convert their user's typing either to the typing of one of their moves or to a typing that resists the type of move last used by their opponent. However, this doesn't explain why this move is exclusive to that line and couldn't be used by any other type of shapeshifter or unfaithful religious Pokémon. The Japanese name for this is テクスチャー Tekusuchā, which means Texture and, in this context, refers to texture mapping in 3D graphics, which explains why this move is exclusive to the only computer-generated Pokémon.


Sharpen was another signature move of the Porygon line, but since Gen V, it has been available to other species, mostly crystalline or mineral shaped ones. Unfortunately, it is basically a poor man's Swords Dance that only raises the Attack stat by one stage. Now why is this not available to a wider range of Pokémon that have limbs or other tools that could get sharper? To explain this, we look at its Japanese name: かくばる Kakubaru can be translated to Improve Angles. This is in tandem with the move's description in the games, which references making the user more jagged by changing their edges.

Double Team

While this one is quite explanatory as a move that creates illusionary copies of the user, one might ask why this wasn’t a move that attacks in tandem with a partner of some sort or a mediocre action movie from the 90s starring Jean Claude Van Damme. To decipher this, we use its Japanese name: かげぶんしん Kage Bunshin most commonly known as Shadow Clone, a ninja technique popularized in anime, manga, and other fiction.

Confuse Ray

Okay fine, it's a ray that confuses the opponent, it's not that complicated. However, unless you know its original Japanese name, you lose a bit of information: あやしいひかり Ayashiihikari can be read as Eerie Light, which can explain why this is a Ghost-type move and is often available to Pokémon that have pearls or other orbs that can glow. In the anime, it's usually depicted as said orbs or their eyes glowing to induce confusion in the opponent.


Originally a former signature move of the Ekans line, Glare can be seen as a more intense Scary Face, where just the mere glare of the eyes is enough to cause paralysis. But, while Scary Face has seen a wide distribution, Glare is mostly limited to snakes. Why? In Japanese this becomes quite apparent: the move's name is へびにらみ Hebinirami that spells out Snake Glare.

Pay Day

If you lived and worked in the Pokémon world and your boss came up to you with a cat that threw coins at you as your salary, you'd surely be disappointed. While this is a mostly useless move with the interesting side effect of granting you extra cash at the end of a battle, the pressing question is: why is this move exclusive to cats? It just so happens that its Japanese name is based off one of their idioms: ネコにこばん Neko ni Koban meaning Gold Coins to Cats, their equivalent of "to cast pearls before swine", which stems from a Bible quote and can be explained as the art of giving things of value to those that will not understand or appreciate them. Kind of like what this move is to an English audience.

Mirror Move

A move that repeats the move used by the opponent in the previous turn. This is similar to the move Mimic, which can be taught to anything available in Gen I and Gen III from either a TM or move tutor. But unlike Mimic, Mirror Move is a Flying-type move and its distribution is limited to bird Pokémon. In Japanese this becomes clear once more: オウムがえし Ōmugaeshi translates to Parrot Mimicry.

Lovely Kiss and Sweet Kiss

These moves are most often associated with the Jynx line, with the former being their signature move. However, some discrepancies appear when you look at their similar names and their animations in Gen II and III: Lovely Kiss is depicted as a demon kissing the opponent while Sweet Kiss depicts an angel kissing them instead. This is due to their respective Japanese names: あくまのキッス Akuma no Kissu and てんしのキッス Tenshi no Kissu, meaning Demon's Kiss and Angel's Kiss respectively. Not sure what this tells of Jynx.


Paired with Frustration, these two make up the happiness-based moves, with Return at its strongest at maximum happiness and the other way around for Frustration. Frustration explains itself quite well, while Return is a more ambiguous-sounding name and could just as well be based on returning damage like Counter does. This gets cleared up in Japanese: おんがえし Ongaeshi can be read as Return Favor; explaining why the move gets stronger the more the Pokémon likes its Trainer.


Assist is another cat centric move with the user calling a random move from their party and using it in their stead. This one has a bit more of a complicated Japanese meaning, which is probably why it was changed: ねこのて Neko no Te translates to Cat's Paw, based on the saying 猫の手も借りたい neko no te mo karitai, literally translated to "I would even like to borrow a cat's hands", which means "I need all the help I can get".

Heat Wave

A Fire-type spread move that is most often associated with Fire-types that can learn it by level up or via egg moves. But, through move tutors, this also becomes available to birds and other winged users that usually wouldn't learn Fire-type moves of this caliber. Once again, this is made clear by its Japanese name: ねっぷう Neppū, which reads as Hot Wind.

Made sense at the time


Probably the most famous out of these odd translations, but in Gen I this, move made perfect sense with Magikarp splashing about as its only user. The problem came in Gen II when the Hoppip line learned the move. These were not based on a fish or any water-based creature, so it made little sense why a line of dandelions was able to learn this. This continued in Gen III with the Spoink line; this time Spoink was a small pig bouncing on its tail and balancing a pearl on top of its head. On top of all this, the move is also affected by Gravity and disabled when it is in use. The explanation for this is that its Japanese name はねる haneru can be translated as either splash or hop. This justifies why the Hoppip, Azurill, Spoink, Buneary, Bounsweet, Mimikyu, and Cosmog lines learn this naturally, with Cleffa and Delibird learning it via egg moves.

Acid Armor

This Defense boosting move was mostly associated with the Grimer line in Gen I. It was also available to Vaporeon, which could be explained with the small logical leap that its water was acidic. However, this became more complicated once more Pokémon such as Slugma, Vanillite, Solosis, and Goomy got access to it, none with any apparent connections to acid. This becomes much easier to understand if we look at the move's name in Japanese: とける Tokeru means Liquefy.


Waterfall was once the signature move of the Goldeen line, but they remain to be the only Pokémon that can learn the move via level up. In Gen I it simply seemed like a variation of either Surf or Hydro Pump due to its similar animation, summoning a waterfall to attack with. When Gen II came around, it became widely available to others as an HM and was used to climb waterfalls instead of creating them. Using its Japanese name would have cleared up the confusion about what the move actually does: たきのぼり Taki Nobori means Waterfall Climb.

Tail Glow

Another previous signature move, this time unique to Volbeat, and seemingly straightforward with its tail being able to glow. This brings us to the age-old debate on why Ampharos, a Pokémon with an even bigger glowing tail, can't learn this. In the games it has even been stated to use its tail as the light source for a lighthouse. Surely this would qualify Ampharos to be able to learn this, but when you take a look at the move's Japanese name you get the answer as to why it doesn't: ほたるび Hotarubi means Firefly Light, ruling out Ampharos as a potential user. However, this doesn't explain why Manaphy and Xurkitree can learn Tail Glow, with the former neither having a tail nor being based on a firefly and the latter having a tail that doesn't illuminate like other parts of its body.

Misleading ones

Seismic Toss

A name that gives the feeling of a Ground-type move in line with Magnitude and Earthquake, chucking something to the point of causing tremors. Despite this, the move is Fighting-type and doesn't even cause regular damage but instead deals damage based on the user's level. The Japanese name helps clear this up: ちきゅうなげ Chikyū Nage can be translated as Earth Throw, referencing how it uses the gravity of the Earth to deal its damage and why in Gen II it's even depicted as one literally throwing the globe at the opponent.


A fan favorite of a move that calls upon almost any move on random, leading to a very popular playstyle where one exclusively does battle using the move. However, judging from its name, one would think that this is a move that produces sounds at a regular interval much like its real-world contemporary. Gen IV even introduced an item called Metronome that behaves similarly to this, strengthening moves of the holder when they are used consecutively. While this item's Japanese name メトロノーム Metoronōmu literally translates to Metronome, the move's Japanese name, ゆびをふる Yubi o Furu, translates to Wag Finger, which is made evident with the move's animation and flavor text when used in the games.


This one could be seen as a variation of Quick Attack or some other speed-related move at first glance, but the Japanese name reveals it to be a bit more specific: スピードスター Supīdo Sutā just means Speed Star and is represented in the games as a volley of stars shooting off towards the opponent.


On a first look, this move would be placed in a similar vein to Gust, Twister, and Hurricane: a strong wind generated that deals damage to the opponent. Because it was introduced in Gen I together with Gust, it would be the next logical step up from Gust in terms of power. This in turn clashes with its real effect of simply blowing away the opponent to either make them switch to a random party member or end the battle if it was a wild battle. Coincidentally, this is its Japanese name: ふきとばし Fukitobashi, which means Blow Away.

Psychic and Kinesis

Coupled with the fact that a move, a typing, and a Trainer class all have the same name, Psychic is also incredibly vague in how it's supposed to deal damage. On the same track, Kinesis seems like a weird way to describe spoon bending when the word is usually used to describe the movement of a cell in response to a stimuli. These two make more sense once you read their Japanese counterparts: Psychic is サイコキネシス Saikokineshisu, which translates to Psychokinesis, while Kinesis is スプーンまげ Supūn Mage and simply means Spoon Bend. Psychokinesis is also another word for telekinesis, which explains why they shortened the move name to just Psychic and took the other half of it to make Kinesis due to the 12 character limit on move names in Gen I. On an unrelated note, Kinesis is probably the worst signature move.


These early Psychic-type moves' translations certainly were confusing; this time one could think that it is a status move similar to Confuse Ray to cause the status condition confusion. This is far from its Japanese name, ねんりき Nenriki, which translates to Mind Power and isn't solely based on the fact that the move has a 10% chance of confusing the opponent.

Tail Whip

While the moves Vine Whip and Power Whip are actual whips that deal damage to an opponent, Tail Whip is just a status move that lowers their Defense stat by one stage. When you look at its Japanese name, しっぽをふる Shippo o Furu, you can see that it just means Tail Wag, making this one a truly unnecessary change in the translation.

False Swipe

Another case where the technical limitations of move names were coupled with a word culture that clashes with English: False Swipe is a real swipe and not a fake one as it might seem. This becomes a lot more clear with its Japanese name: みねうち Mineuchi can be translated as Strike with the Back of a Sword, a technique in Japanese swordplay due to the prevalence of single-edged blades to deal non-fatal damage to a foe.

Double Slap

While Double Slap will at least slap twice, it can slap up to 5 times, immediately making the name stupid and misleading. In Japanese there's no such miscommunication: おうふくビンタ Ōfuku Binta simply translates to Back-and-Forth Slap.

Mud Slap

Another slap this time, but it's not a slap and doesn't even make contact with the opponent. The Japanese name is instead どろかけ Norokake, which just means Mud Spray.

Comet Punch and Meteor Mash

Back in Gen I the Normal-type punching move with the Japanese name れんぞくパンチ Renzoku Panchi could be translated as Consecutive Punch, but in the English versions of the games, it was translated as Comet Punch. Not clear where comets come in to this picture, but it wasn't that confusing overall. Fast forward to Gen III and a Steel-type punching move is introduced with its Japanese name コメットパンチ Kometto Panchi that translates to... wait for it: Comet Punch. Oops! said Game Freak, just rename it Meteor Mash instead because of our earlier blunder. It does sound cooler than Comet Punch to be honest.

Sucker Punch

Following this pattern we've made, here comes a punch that isn't a punch and can even be taught to Pokémon without arms. This is due to the liberal translation of its Japanese name, ふいうち Fuiuchi, which directly translates to Surprise Attack instead. Sucker Punch instead refers to the act of pulling an unexpected or cheap move against an opponent, akin to its Japanese name.

Confusing abilities that correspond with moves

This is more of a bonus category for when the move names themselves are not confusing but are in tandem with abilities that affect them as a unified group.


This ability blocks moves that have either ball or bomb in their names, along with a few select cannon- and blast-based attacks, from damaging the user. While some affected moves like Octazooka, オクタンほう Okutank Cannon (Okutank being Octillery's Japanese name), and Searing Shot, かえんだん Kaendan, which translates to Flame Bomb, are a bit more understandable, there are some that leave one perplexed. Acid Spray, Pollen Puff, and Rock Wrecker are also affected, but they are all explained with their Japanese names: アシッドボム Ashiddu Bomu translates to Acid Bomb, かふんだんご Kafun Dango translates to Pollen Bomb, and がんせきほう Ganseki Hō translates to Rock Cannon.

Mega Launcher

While this ability isn't as confusing with the in-game flavor text clearly saying that it boosts the power of aura and pulse moves, it deserves a mention due to how we might not perceive an aura to be that similar to a pulse. In the Japanese games, this ability affects all moves that contain はどう hadō, which in turn can be translated as either wave, aura, or pulse.

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