Search button in the site


Vol.20 : Walkman Finds its Way into the Global Vocabulary

Sony Walkman marks its 30th

The first Walkman, the TPS-L2 (top right). Initially, it was sold as "Soundabout" in the US,
"Stowaway" in the United Kingdom, and "Freestyle" in Australia.

This year marks 30 years since the first-generation Walkman went on sale in July 1979. Today, the name "Walkman" is understood around the world, but did you know that when the first-generation Walkman was launched, it was sold under completely different names overseas?

Of course, "Walkman" is Janglish. Overseas sales companies objected to this Japanese-English name, and proposed others. Sony America initially suggested "Sony Disco Jogger" because both disco and jogging were then all the rage in America. It was also thought that Walkman's targets were young people who were likely to go to discos. But Sony's Chairman at the time, Akio Morita, had lead the way in commercializing Walkman, and was extremely enthusiastic about it. He argued that while it was true that young people who went to discos and jogged were the product's targets, older people should also be included among potential purchasers because the product's sales price was US$199. He vetoed the "Sony Disco Jogger" proposal because these older customers would probably show less interest in the product if the word "disco" was included in the name. The name that was eventually chosen was "Soundabout," a word coined from the expression "walk about." Sales companies in different countries began to sell the product under different names.

However, Walkman quickly became very popular in Japan, and foreign visitors to Japan began to buy them as presents to take home with them. Through these customers, the product name "Walkman" spread overseas by word of mouth, to the extent that customers in other countries started going into local electrical stores and asking for it by name. "Walkman" may have been Janglish, but contrary to expectations, people in non-English-speaking countries may also have found it easy to understand. Morita made his decision, and declared at a sales meeting held in the US in April 1980 that "Walkman" would be used as the standard product name worldwide. "Walkman" eventually made its way into the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary (the so-called "Bible of the English language") in 1986 as well as Japan's authoritative "Kojien" dictionary in 1991.

Walkman has thus achieved an unshakeable position in both name and substance, racking up sales of 385 million units worldwide to date. Walkman's success probably lies not only in its attractiveness as a product, but also in the fact that its easy-to-understand name struck a chord with people around the world.

Page Top