New iPhone feature is butt of Japanese joke

The name of the voice-command app Siri translates into hilarity.

By InvestorPlace Oct 5, 2011 11:42AM
By Anthony John Agnello,

Apple (AAPL) might have disappointed the hordes dying to get their hands on an iPhone 5 when it announced the new iPhone 4S on Tuesday, but the company still managed to impress them with new apps.

Particularly impressive is Siri, Apple's new voice-command app that lets you talk to your iPhone. Need to know how bad traffic is in your area? Just ask the phone and Siri will give you real-time data on traffic outside.

However, Apple forgot the cardinal rule of language-based technology: If you build it, your audience is going to make lewd jokes with it. And Apple's new app made it all too easy for people to turn it into a joke, considering what Siri sounds like in Japanese. Here's a hint: The iPhone 4S almost certainly will be Sir Mix-a-Lot's favorite smartphone.

To the Japanese, the name Siri sounds almost identical to 尻, pronounced shiri. Shiri is a colloquialism for -- in the politest possible sense -- buttocks. Its proper usage, however, is crude. As Yoree Koh of The Wall Street Journal put it, the comparable term in English rhymes with "crass." Compliments for Apple's major new technology, likely to be the focus of marketing campaigns across the world, will make the speaker sound like a cat-calling construction worker in Japan.

Shortly after Siri was announced, both "Siri" and "shiri" became trending topics on Twitter in Japan. Google Japan searches for Apple's new voice-recognition software had the search engine asking users if they actually were looking for "shiri," and it isn't difficult to imagine what the image search returned on those queries.

Given Apple's flair for branding, it's surprising that the company didn't know about this potential gaffe before announcing Siri to the world. Japan is, after all, a major market for the company.

The iPhone itself was the first major smartphone success in the country, capturing 72% of the Japanese market by the middle of 2010. Although Google (GOOG) Android phones have narrowed the gap in 2011, diminishing Apple's market share to 38%, Japan is still a major market for Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company shipped 3.23 million iPhones in the country in the last fiscal year.

When your biggest mobile operating system competitor has crushed your lead in less than 12 months, it probably isn't the best idea to name a major new feature of iOS after butts. This is Apple, though. The iPhone 4S and Siri should prove as popular as previous Apple mobile products, named after someone's rear or not.

As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at @ajohnagnello and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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Oct 5, 2011 12:25PM
 Been talking to my Droid for 8 months now, so glad I decided to leave Apple.  You have to hand it to them though, stealing another idea from Droid and calling it "Revolutionary", oh so lame......
Oct 5, 2011 12:30PM
Apple bottom? Maybe they should make a phone cover that looks like a little pair of jeans....
Oct 5, 2011 12:08PM
Since when is @ss a banned word?  Man up, type it, publish it.
Oct 5, 2011 12:52PM
Really, who cares. I don't plan on speaking to my phone in Japanese.
Oct 5, 2011 1:16PM
Who cares? Android is kicking over priced Apple's a$$ anyway.

Android is better and cost much less.

Oct 5, 2011 1:17PM

this is bigger news than when justin bieber cut his hair last year! you can tell Apple is desperate when they unveil a new phone and the unique thing about it is... apps... apps that are probably normally free... and you know their customer base is dumb as hell when they actually buy them!

laugh my siri off!


Oct 5, 2011 1:05PM
Haha, Apple should have taken a lesson from Nintendo, who will not be calling their Wii-2 the Wii-Ni (Ni is 2 in Japanese!).
Oct 5, 2011 1:28PM
It is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are an idiot, then open it and leave no doubt. 

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool,**than** to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
Oct 5, 2011 12:10PM
I am pretty sure my android does this suckers

Oct 5, 2011 3:43PM

I am still looking for a beeper provider.


Oct 5, 2011 3:52PM
iPhone SUCKS, Android SUCKS! Just gimme a dumb phone that I can call people on and text a little. I don't need all that other crap.
Oct 5, 2011 2:23PM
Oct 5, 2011 1:01PM
Not a big deal what the Japanese think.  We cracked some jokes when Wang computers were introduced to us.  
Oct 5, 2011 12:39PM

Lol.  I'm not big on smart phones but so far theres a war a brewin between the droid folks and the iphone folks.....wonder wich is better.  I still have a motorolla RZR  lmao.


Oct 5, 2011 2:38PM
I still don't have a cell phone. WOO!
Oct 5, 2011 1:46PM
Wow... seriously? Are we really going to argue over spelling? I have an Android phone with Gingerbread OS. My boyfriend has an iPhone 4. My phone is much more powerful,  flexible and easy to use. There is nothing his iPhone does that I can't do on my Droid. He has always been a die-hard iPhone user, but since seeing my Droid, he is determined to upgrade and finally break free from Apple and all their BS. Everyone is going to have a favorite and an argument to back their position, but let's at least try to have some respect for each other in here. I do find it odd that "Someone" has never had a smartphone or calculator, but he is on a computer... really? You have never had a calculator? That is fascinating, no insult intended.
Oct 5, 2011 1:29PM

@ Madame P.


Maybe you should comment on the article and not what people post. No one cares that you are a grammar police. Some people have bad grammar; get over it. Go troll somewhere else and let people comment on the article. I have friends who have very bad grammar that I would lay down my life for. I don't care if the misspell their or there, then or than, grammar or grammer, whatever. Get a life, troll. Oh, and proofread your own sentences. I see you left a comma out. Try and find it, troll

Oct 5, 2011 1:51PM
Oct 5, 2011 2:54PM
Hmmm at long last I have a talking Siri.....
Oct 5, 2011 12:43PM
Apple should have never said they were going to come out with the Iphone 5. Them just giving us the 4gs is them doing the 3g's all over again. People need to stop being to happy that there are new apps and stay on the fact that apple can just make anything and say it's new and it will sell. When they could be making the screen bigger, better life span, faster motherboards, make it where facetime can be used on there 4g network not just on wifi. There a lot they could do but we all know they wont.
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