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I have heard before that ありがとう came from the word "obrigado" in Portuguese. Is this true and is there any evidence to support this, or is it an old wives' tale?

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+1 the claim is false, but people who ought to know better keep making this claim. –  Andrew Grimm May 12 '12 at 23:28
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@AndrewGrimm While I agree with your comment, you might want to re-word since it confused me at first! I thought you were saying "they better keep making this claim" as in they SHOULD keep making this claim rather than what I would hope is your intended meaning of that it's common for knowledgeable people to make this claim. –  atlantiza May 30 '12 at 1:20
    
Maybe it should be [the claim is false, but even people who ought to know better still keep making this claim] –  Chris Harris May 30 '12 at 16:15
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1 Answer

up vote 22 down vote accepted

It is false. ありがとう came from adjective ありがたい, which was ありがたし in classical Japanese and dates back much earlier than any loanwords from Portuguese appeared in Japanese.

Word ありがたし appeared in Makura no Sōshi (1002), although I hope that someone with access to large dictionaries can post earlier references. Loadwords from Portuguese in Japanese started appearing in the 16th century.

See also the comment to this answer by Dono. Honestly speaking, I think that it is better than this answer.

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Thanks, I have often noticed a lot of published books about Japanese written in English have false information (first paragraph of 2.1.5). –  Jesse Good May 12 '12 at 22:22
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Earlier citations may be found in Man'yōshū 17:4011 (c. 759). Note though that this is a compound of the verb ar- (有り) + adjective katasi (難し), which is a major point against the Portuguese etymology. Also worth noting is that meaning that expresses gratitude may only be found from the 15th century. Yet this is still a century before the Portuguese arrived in Japan. –  Dono May 13 '12 at 8:42
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@Dono: Care to post it as a separate answer? You made many good points including ありがたし being a compound word (so each component should date back even earlier) and distinction between the original meaning of ありがたし (rare, exceptional) and the modern meaning (worth thanking). –  Tsuyoshi Ito May 13 '12 at 12:11
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@Dono You should consider posting that as a separate answer. There doesn't have to be only a single answer for a question, and you bring up some good points that aren't in Tsuyoshi Ito's answer. –  Troyen May 15 '12 at 0:34
    
@Dono: Could you post that as a separate answer? I want to link to it from a different answer on Linguistics. –  Mechanical snail Sep 24 '12 at 22:59
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