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Witness (to a crime), as a legal/technical term, is 目撃 in Japanese. Now why is this? It doesn't seem to relate well with any of the other possible translations for witness, such as 証人、見送る、 or 見届ける. A quick search did not turn up any results.

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As "etymologies" go, this one is fairly straightforward: 撃 = 'attack', 目 = 'see'... Not sure what more you may want... – Dave May 3 '14 at 12:34
@Dave Are you sure that isn't a folk etymology? It seems fine intuitively, but it's not what I find in dictionaries. I see 触れる。当たる。「目撃」 in 新漢語林, for example, under 撃. – snailplane May 3 '14 at 16:22
@snailboat: it is a complete "folk" etymology, in that I haven't looked it up anywhere. I am merely saying that I fail to see what's counter-intuitive about these two kanji in compound being associated with the sense of "criminal witness". It might be an odd case of misleading association, but I don't see any reason to think so, even in 新漢語林's definitions. – Dave May 5 '14 at 2:56

目 means 目で, with eyes.

The kanji 撃 sometimes means to hit, to touch, or to reach without hindrance, which is etymologically similar to the 届ける part in 見届ける, つける part in 見つける, etc. But the original meaning is not preserved in compound verbs any more.

大辞泉 gives a different explanation,

[常用漢字] [音]ゲキ(慣) [訓]うつ
1 強くうち当てる。「撃柝(げきたく)/射撃・衝撃・打撃・鼓腹撃壌」
2 武力を加える。攻める。「撃退/迎撃・攻撃・襲撃・出撃・進撃・突撃・排撃・反撃」
3 感覚に触れる。「目撃」

But 3 is not very convincing to me. 強く(うち)当てる is better.

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Do you happen to have a source for "reach without hindrance"? – Trevor Alexander May 5 '14 at 6:40
@TrevorAlexander, no, they are merely my feelings. I just wanted to express a kind of "direct" or "violent" feeling, which is somewhat similar to 強く〜 or 〜てしまう. But it seems that my intuition might be wrong. I found some early quotes of "目撃" dating from 2200 years ago but haven't got time to read it. I might update the answer later. – Yang Muye May 5 '14 at 7:36

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