Translating “gamen” into English

Japanese uses the word 画面 (gamen) in a software context in many different ways. It might refer to a window, a dialog box, a (web) page, or the computer's physical screen.

The Fifth Edition of the Green Goddess gives the following translation for 画面 in a computer context:

【電算】 〔コンピューターや携帯電話などの表示面〕 a (display) screen.

This, unfortunately, is incorrect for most of the cases where the word 画面 is used in the wild.

The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications says that the term screen refers to "…the graphical portion of a visual output device" (i.e. the monitor's display area). In most of the cases where I see 画面, however, it's being used for one of these other meanings.

For example, this page has the following text:


This, of course, is referring to the "Security Warning" dialog box that appears when the page tries to install software on your computer.

Here's another example, where a login page calls itself a

And a final example, where the main window is called the


What all this boils down to is that you can't translate the term 画面 mechanically. You've got to look at the context, and see how the word's being used. Gee, you mean we've got to pay attention to context in software translation too? I thought this was supposed to be easy!

3 comments to Translating “gamen” into English

  • In all fairness, colloquial usage permits us to call windows or views “screens”. Admittedly, you’d want to be precise when translating documentation, so that’s not an excuse.

  • I think that particular usage in English is a holdover from the dumb terminal/text interface days when all you had was a “screen.”

    As you say, it doesn’t belong in documentation, especially when destined for end users. But this usage is still kicking around pretty strongly in Japanese.

  • Interesting post! We should add it to ou list!

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