Both in day-to-day conversation and in writing, we often need to bridge the gaps between how we express things in our own language and the way speakers of other languages say what are essentially the same things.

I was reminded of this recently when the English-language news services and television networks recently described North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un as wearing a "Mao suit." Neither Japanese nor Chinese news services used such a term. Nor, apparently, did the North Koreans, who normally refer to Kim's upper garment matter-of-factly as tatkin'gis yangbok, literally a "closed collar, Western-style garment."

If Japanese were to attempt a 直訳 (chokuyaku, direct translation) of "Mao suit" — and I'm glad they didn't — it might be 毛服 (mōfuku), which would probably not work, because it would sound too similar to 喪服 (mofuku, funeral garb).