Like countries the world over, Japan has a robust group of subcultures.
The obvious example is anime and video game fans, known in Japan as otaku. These people have many traditions, jokes and cultural references that will make literally zero sense to your average Japanese person.
It goes without saying that there are thriving communities of foreign fans obsessed with Japanese games and anime. Sometimes, references to things that seem Japanese in origin will turn out to be largely driven by non-Japanese fans.
Enter the Internet phenomenon of padoru.
What does padoru mean in Japanese?
The word padoru, written in katakana as パドル, means “paddle” in Japanese. The sport of Paddle Tennis, for example, is transliterated into Japanese as パドルテニス (padoru tenisu). However, if you’re seeing the word padoru written online in Roman letters, chances are good that it’s a reference to a video featuring a character from Fate/EXTRA, a Japanese video game, singing a nonsensical riff on the Japanese version of Christmas song Jingle Bells which contains the line パドルパドル (padoru padoru). Due to this video’s popularity as an anime-themed meme, there are hundreds of parody videos of it, which are referred to as “padoru” videos.
The Japanese word パドル (padoru)
When written in katakana, the word パドル (padoru) is a noun that means “paddle.”
As expected from a katakana word, it’s no surprise that パドル sounds a lot like paddle. Katakana is used primarily for loanwords, of which パドル is a great example.
If you’re talking about a paddle used in a sport like table tennis, or the paddle attached to a paddle boat, パドル is an exact one-to-one translation (more accurately, a transliteration) of the English word paddle.
Padoru: Internet edition
So much for the Japanese word パドル (padoru).
One interesting thing about the use of “padoru” online is that it’s often spelled out in Roman characters as though it were an English word.
This suggests a non-Japanese origin, or at the least that something anime-related is happening. Buckle your metaphorical seatbelts as we speed into strange and otaku-like corners of the Internet.
The origins of padoru
When “padoru” is spelled in Roman characters, it is almost certainly a reference to a YouTube video from 2017 called “padoru padoru.”
This video features a gender-flipped anime version of Roman Emperor Nero dressed in a Santa outfit and carrying a sack. Nero dances through what appears to be a walkway outside a nondescript building, singing in Japanese to the tune of Jingle Bells.
If you’re stuck on the weirdness of “gender-flipped anime version of Roman Emperor Nero,” allow me to introduce you to the mega-popular game, anime, manga and visual novel franchise that is Fate/.
In these media, there is usually some kind of regular Japanese character who gets involved with some kind of tournament, war or other struggle fought by powerful female fighters who are the personification of important historical or cultural figures.
Nero comes from a game called Fate/EXTRA, which also features personifications of Robin Hood, Sir Francis Drake, Buddha and infamous Han Dynasty era general Lü Bu, among others.
Anyway, the word “padoru” comes from the final line in this strange video, where Nero sings “padoru padoru!” at extremely high volume.
The lyrics from the padoru video
It’s unclear what, if anything, “padoru padoru” means in the padoru video, but most of the other lyrics make grammatical sense.
The first two lines of this are just the first two lines of Jingle Bells in Japanese:
Like the wind
The last two lines are mostly nonsense.
To the moon-viewing field
Some more on the real meaning of padoru
Even Pixiv, a Japanese fan creation site which has a page about padoru and even features the full 7:34 minute video the YouTube one is pulled from, doesn’t know what “padoru” is supposed to mean.
However, the song is a parody of Jingle Bells, and the third line is garbled (the original is 雪の中を or “in the middle of the snow”).
That suggests that the most likely answer for “padoru padoru” is just that it’s using the word パドル as a kind of nonsensical pun on “Jingle Bells,” which has a similar repeated “ru” sound in katakana: ジングルベル (jinguru beru).
This type of pun is called 駄洒落(dajare), where words are misunderstood or misspoken on purpose for comedic effect.
Anyone who’s watched anime where a character gets an English loanword hilariously wrong has likely seen examples.
Padoru as a popular meme
Since the first padoru video appeared in 2017, it has spawned hundreds of parodies, making it a popular online meme.
There are spoofs with other Fate/ characters, spoofs splicing the meme into other popular anime and video games and videos of people watching “every version” of padoru.
Another type of video involves “padoru raids,” where groups of people create Nero-lookalike characters in multiplayer online games and play dozens of versions of the song at once over voice chat, confusing and annoying the games’ regular players.
How to use padoru in a sentence
“Padoru” refers to the padoru video or its parodies. Technically, that makes it a noun.
But it’s not a noun you’re likely to use unless you are referring to a padoru video, so it’s clearly of limited use and a little self-referential.
“My favorite Christmas tradition is padoru.”
“I saw a hilarious padoru the other day featuring George W. Bush.”
“We watched so much padoru last night we didn’t go to bed until morning.”
These are all weird sentences, but they do feature grammatically correct uses of the word “padoru.”
Now, let us also have a look at how to use the Japanese パドル in a sentence.
Just like in English, パドル is a noun. That means you can use it anywhere in a sentence where a noun is grammatically acceptable.
It’s also worth noting that there are perfectly good Japanese words for some kinds of paddle. For the type of paddle that is seen on a boat, use 櫂 (kai). For the verb “to paddle,” use 漕ぐ (kogu).
“To say ‘櫂’ (kai) in English, say ‘padoru.'”
“The player who was the favorite to win unfortunately had their paddle break in the middle of the championship table tennis match.”
The final verdict on padoru as a Japanese word
So what’s the deal with padoru when it’s written in Roman characters?
It’s technically a Japanese word, but the way it’s used online is very much a non-Japanese Internet phenomenon.
That means you shouldn’t expect Japanese people to understand even slightly what you mean if you talk about watching a “padoru” video, and it also means that the only answer you’ll get by asking them what “padoru” has to do with Christmas is a confused shrug.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.