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I read once somewhere that the word 'sake' (酒, Japanese rice wine) comes from sha-ke (鮭, salmon). Can someone explain what this connection is?

Any thoughts on why most Japanese people * don't know the origin of the word sake are also appreciated.

*Most Japanese people who I know ... @Tsuyoshi Ito may know more.

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It is an honor to be mentioned, but unfortunately I do not know the origin of the words 酒 and 鮭, and I do not know whether there is any etymological connection between them either. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 20 '11 at 1:54
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I'd ask for a [citation needed] on this. There are a ton of homophones or near-homophones in Japanese which are not necessarily related. Not saying they aren't, but it seems awfully obscure. :) –  deceze Jun 20 '11 at 3:38
    
@Ito: grin @deceze: citation on the answer or question? –  crunchyt Jun 21 '11 at 6:41
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I'd be impressed if the majority of the speakers of any language knew the etymology of random words in that language. Do you know the etymology of the word for alcohol in your language? –  dainichi Jan 25 '12 at 6:19
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Why can't it be a coincidence? I have known several people of high intellectual attainment labor under the notion that their forays into linguistics held great promise in the field of etymology. Witness however the English publisher John Taylor that fixated on the notion that the dimensions of the great pyramid were divisible by pi, when pi signifies a ratio and not a number. He was a publisher, and neither a mathematician nor a linguist. See Socrates and Oppenheimer on the notion of specialization. –  user1421 Jun 9 '12 at 2:12
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

What is the connection? None, apparently.

According to 語源由来辞典 (always a good place to check on that sort of question), none of the likely etymologies have anything to do with "sha-ke" or fish in general.

The above site mentions a couple of theories for the etymology of the word "さけ", including:

  • 汁【しる】 + 食【け】
    'soup'  'eat/food'
  • 栄【さか】え水【みず】
    'water that makes you prosper'

but goes on to state that the most plausible etymology is the following: さ is a prefix (of unspecified meaning) attached to き, an older word for sake. The final vowel assumedly changed somewhere along the way.

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Well, the link I gave from the same site, but to the other sake entry has theories relating them… P! –  Axioplase Jun 20 '11 at 6:30
    
Indeed (we posted simultaneously and I only saw your answer after posting mine). As you point out, though, any connection would be in the opposite direction... –  Dave Jun 20 '11 at 6:48
    
+1 for happy water for sure! @dave's answer from Gogenyuraijiten seems to gel with the story I heard about sake originally being eaten (sake/shake or taberu) not drunken, because it was still unrefined and mostly watery rice (that made you happy). –  crunchyt Jun 21 '11 at 6:45
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Let me say a word about the secondary part of the question:

Any thoughts on why most Japanese people * don't know the origin of the word sake are also appreciated.

A simple answer is because understanding the etymology requires study and research and most Japanese people are not linguists. Ask an average English speaker what the etymological connection is between, say, meal and meat, and I would not expect that you will get any answer beyond a guess. Being fluent in a language does not mean that one knows the etymology.

But there is something more on this. I heard that even when you ask linguists, it is often more difficult to trace the origin of a word in Japanese than in English. This is because the origin of the Japanese language itself is unclear (see Japonic languages and the classification of Japonic). If you think about the etymological study as a kind of detective work, there is often not much clue on which a theory about the origin of a word can be built. On the other hand, there are many languages which have common origins with English, and it is often possible to get some clue by comparing them.

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Nice answer. True and well explained! A sushi chef I worked with once seemed to know about a connection between the fish and the drink, and that's what got me interested in this point all those years ago. –  crunchyt Jun 21 '11 at 6:48
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One of several explanations for the origin of the word 鮭 is that the colour of the salmon's flesh is that of a "drunk red", and that subsequently the word "sake" derived from either "sakake" (酒気, tipsiness) or "ake" (朱 scarlet, red).

The fact that this is in no way verified must help explain why most Japanese you encountered had no idea about it… (and also, the derivation of the name is in the opposite direction of that which you implied.)

(source: http://gogen-allguide.com/sa/sake_sakana.html)

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+1 for an alternative answer and useful answer. –  crunchyt Jun 21 '11 at 6:45
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