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What is the etymology of the term 仏様 ? I am interested because of all the meanings this word can possess.

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

It comes from two words: 仏{ほとけ} (hotoke, Buddha) and 様{さま} (an honorific suffix). さま is of course applied to many names towards which a large degree of deference is to be shown (gods, royalty, etc.).

But perhaps you're wondering about the origin of 仏{ほとけ}? That's a bit more complicated. According to the 大辞泉 dictionary, the word ほとけ originally came from a phonetic shift of the word ぶつ (a word for "Buddha" in Japanese) into the word ほと.

After this shift, the ending ~け was then applied, which means (loosely translated) "looks like" or "seems like," to mean "an image of Buddha." You can also see this ~け in words like ありげ and よさげ.

From this original meaning of "an image of Buddha," the meaning then shifted a bit through history to mean "Buddha," as well as "a spirit of the deceased."

I wouldn't say that 仏{ほとけ} really has many other meanings besides those above, although it's extremely versatile in idiomatic expressions, which can give it many uses.

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cool beans. thank you. – yadokari Jan 20 '12 at 3:27
Some scholars (Frellesvig/Whitman, Vovin?) believe that "hotoke" was a loanword direct from Korean. Since the (Old) Korean word must have come from China along with the religion, and 仏陀 was a phonetic loan in Chinese, it doesn't mean a different etymology -- just a different route from Sanskrit to Japanese. – Matt Jan 20 '12 at 8:18
@natty i was interested in 仏 cuz I saw it used as god, buddha, ancestor, ghost...That's what i mean by a variety of meanings. thanks again – yadokari Jan 21 '12 at 5:30

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