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Does マシ come from English? Or is it a semantic emphasis?

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Needs more context. Or cowbell. –  rdb Sep 13 '11 at 4:09
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Are you sure it's not マジ, which is quite commonly written using katakana in manga to put some emphasis on it? –  Lukman Sep 13 '11 at 4:34
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@Sawa - i think your words are a little harsh. There is a alot of katakana words that are derived from english. That being said i think you could have made your comment a little softer and still have gotten your point across –  Mark Hosang Sep 13 '11 at 4:38
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The only one who knows whether it's 外来語 or not is the OP. To the rest of us, without context, it's nothing. And I think that most of the カタカナ語 that Japanese students are first exposed to does come from English, so it's not such a wild supposition on the part of the OP. Calling the OP prejudiced seems like a much more egregious leap of logic by comparison. –  rdb Sep 13 '11 at 6:53
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Let me try: "まし". Nope, it's written in hiragana here. –  Axioplase Sep 13 '11 at 11:17
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1 Answer 1

まし is not a loanword. It is actually 増し, the noun form of verb 増す (“to increase”). However, it is not usually written in kanji, probably because the meaning diverged widely from the original verb 増す.

If you follow the standard orthography, there is no reason why まし should be written in katakana. However, it is true that many people write マシ in katakana. I do not know why.

The following is my speculation about a possible reason. Sometimes words are written in katakana to avoid a large chunk of hiragana and make them stand out in a sentence. For example, in the following two sentences, the latter may be easier to read.

こんな安物でもないよりはまだましだ。
こんな安物でもないよりはまだマシだ。

This may (or may not) be a reason why many people write マシ rather than まし.

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Along these same lines, I've seen people compare this sort of カタカナ usage to the use of italics in Latin-derived orthography, i.e., for emphasis of a word or phrase. Do you feel that sense of equivalence from your example? –  rdb Sep 13 '11 at 22:53
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In English (and probably in other Latin derived languages as you said), italic can be used to make a word or a phrase stand out, especially for loanwords: for example, the game of go. The speculation I stated in the answer is similar to this (but it is only a speculation!). But not all italic words are like this. Italic is more often used to emphasize something, but katakana is not usually used for emphasis. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 13 '11 at 23:38
    
Interesting - I've never thought of the use of italics with Latin, for example in scientific names of plants and animals, a case of emphasis. This sort of italics is traditionally used with foreign words/phrases (not names or place-names), which are not commonly used in English. This is why some phrases which are originally Latin are usually not italicised (e.g. "ad hoc"). The difference is not in emphasis but in familiarity. In the case of Latin, where some phrases start with words like "in" or "a", it might also be used for clarification. –  nkjt Sep 16 '11 at 10:37
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