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My dictionary says this word means something like "official; public" - how does the word go from that definition to being used as a derogatory suffix for animals and people?

One example the dictionary gives is 熊公 how would this be any different than 熊め to express anger towards a bear?

I should also add that the word can also indicate intimacy and a high level of respect.

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Might not necessarily be the same, but remember that the word vulgar in English came from the Latin word for common folk! –  ssb Feb 5 at 16:36
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Similar things have happened with a number of words in Japanese. For example, お前 and 貴様 used to be honorific. –  snailboat Feb 5 at 19:27
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1 Answer

I have done some research both online and in real life (all in Japanese) but failed to find any reliable information as to exactly when or how it added the new usage. So, this will mostly be a non-answer.

Adoration and contempt are both sides of the same coin and the line between the two sides is fragile. It would not be unusual using an honorific to show respect to someone in public and simultaneously using the same "honorific" in a derogatory way in one's privacy to express one's true feelings toward the same person. After all, the walls have ears.

Regarding the suffix 「[公]{こう}」, its derogatory usage is limited to highly colloquial conversations, and believe it or not, it is not at all in wide use. The only words containing 「公」 that I have actively used or heard others use have been 「[先公]{せんこう}」 and 「ポリ[公]{こう}」 (meaning "teacher" and "cop", respectively) , and it was only during junior high school. It just was not cool to continue using those words in high school. It should be noted that even in junior high, kids used those words mainly because it was the fad to do so at that time, not because we were delinquents who had grudges against our teachers and the police.

The only reason that I feel that Japanese-learners might be mislead to thinking that 「公」 is in wider use is that it is used much more often in fiction. In real life, we do not speak like the characters one sees in manga, anime, films, etc.

If OP's dictionary actually said that 「[熊公]{くまこう}」 was derogatory, it is NOT. It only means "little beary boy". It is totally different from 「熊め」, which means "that f***ing bear".

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Ah, never saw this answer, thanks anyway! Really helpful. I should say that I have never heard or read 公 in anime, manga and the like - I got it from a dictionary. I have seen 先公 but just treated that as one word on it's own. In terms of learning from anime and the like though, I'm fairly confident that I have heard 99% of what I've encountered in anime from real Japanese people, and given that much of my learning comes from these sources how "no-one talks", I have never had any complaints on my Japanese, Only surprise at the fact that I can come up with such natural or advanced sentences. –  user4096 Mar 26 at 10:17
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