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And no, this isn't about property sizes in Japan!

As Katakana Mysteries: 6 loan words Japan got wrong put it:

Bill Gates or Warren Buffet might be very surprised if they were to buy a Japanese manshon, only to find upon their arrival something a bit less grand than they envisioned, and that they would be sharing it with quite a few other people.

The English edition of Wiktionary claims that it is derived from English:

Etymology

From English mansion.

Note that while English “mansion” most commonly means “large house”, it is also occasionally used to mean “luxurious apartment”, the latter usage being followed in Japanese.

And the English language Wiktionary article talks about mansion meaning "A luxurious flat" being UK English, which I've heard was the main source of English in the 19th century.

Japanese English - 10 Truly Bizarre Examples Of Wasei-Eigo claims it might be borrowed from French:

マンション (mansion)

Don't get too excited if you're moving to Japan to live in a mansion. These mansions are actually condominiums. I have no idea how this creation came about. Some of the mansions I've seen in Japan were less than luxurious. Is it a joke? I suspect it might be a borrowed word from French.

Is 「マンション」 derived from English, or French? And did Japanese mess up the meaning of "mansion", or were they being faithful to a meaning that is rarely used nowadays?

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The OED gives “a large residential building divided into flats” as definition 1(e) for ‘mansion’, with the annotation “ In pl. (sometimes with sing. concord). Chiefly Brit.” –  Zhen Lin Apr 7 '13 at 9:03
    
Why did this get downvoted? Sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to me. I'll upvote to counter. –  istrasci Apr 7 '13 at 21:21
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I have nothing to back this up, but following on from Zhen Lin's comment:

It may have come from the British English "mansion block", which I think was a Victorian invention - the typical one would be something rather impressive in red brick within a suitably posh London postcode.

They often have names of the form "XYZ Mansions", for example Albert Hall Mansions and the individual apartments within are called "mansion flats". The term is still in use (but tends to refer to a period building rather than a new build).

This site says the term in Japanese really started up in the 1960s - so then again it might just have been the adoption of a word that made the apartments in question sound more luxurious - the same reason for the establishment of the phrase 'mansion block' in English in the first place.

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@ssb the Japanese Wikipedia page describes マンション as wasei eigo. If it's faithful to the British English term, shouldn't it be mere gairaigo, not wasei eigo? –  Andrew Grimm Apr 9 '13 at 22:09
    
I probably just didn't read it thoroughly. I skimmed through the body and found the mansion block reference, so maybe disregard that comment. –  ssb Apr 9 '13 at 23:31
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