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I often hear Japanese males use the word お袋 in place of お母さん when annoyed or irritated. Is this word slang? How did this word come to mean 「お母さん」 and what are the circumstances it is used in?

I am also interested in why the word 「袋」is chosen to address the mother. What is the importance of this word?

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I do not think that the use of おふくろ is associated to annoyance or irritation, but let’s see how other people view this. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 17 '12 at 21:23
    
I agree. If anecdotes help: I first came across the work in a soap opera. A 12 year old boy referred to his mother as お袋、his sister laughed at him using a male adult word. The second time my father-in-law showed me statue he had brought because its face reminded him of his お袋. –  Tim Aug 18 '12 at 4:11
    
One question: is it always お袋 and never just 袋? I think 上さん, wife can be with or without, just like 母さん. –  Tim Aug 18 '12 at 4:15
    
@Tim: I think it is always おふくろ and never ふくろ –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 19 '12 at 14:46
    
@Tsuyoshi Ito: Thanks –  Tim Aug 19 '12 at 15:14
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I wondered the same thing the first time I saw that! In English it's rather impolite to refer to your mother (or indeed any woman!) as a "bag". ("You old bag!") This is not so in Japanese! It's actually a term of endearment. Please see this blog post on some explanation.

I'll give a section here in case the link breaks:

I can’t find anything about the etymology of お袋, but I’m going to have to assume that it relates to the womb as the primordial bag. Just as koalas are known in the kanji sense for their pouches (e.g., 袋熊, fukuro-guma: koala, pouch + bear), a human mother is also nicknamed for her interior “pouch.”

Here’s what Yahoo Japan’s dictionary has to say about お袋. See how much you can understand before turning to the link for the yomi and breakdown:

"自分の母親を親しんでいう語。古くは敬称として用いたが、現在では主に男性が、他人に対して自分の母をいうのに用いる。" Yomi and Breakdown of the Words …

A rough translation:

"A word expressing closeness with one’s own mother. A long time ago, people used it as a title of honor, but nowadays a man will mainly use it when talking to others about his mother."

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So contrary to my post, this word is used in a positive context? –  Chris Harris Aug 17 '12 at 21:49
    
@Chris: It seems that way, yes :) How often/where do you hear it when the speaker seems annoyed? Personally I've only seen it written, so I can't say as to that aspect of it... –  silvermaple Aug 17 '12 at 22:02
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There appears to be several theories as to the origin ranging from your answer (related to the womb), to women being responsible for the families bag of money/valuables in the olden days. Another theory is that it originated from the word ふところ which has both the meaning bossom and bag. –  Jeemusu Aug 18 '12 at 1:26
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According to Gogen, there are several theories:

  1. A mother is likened to a bag where things like money and important valuables and treasures are kept, and she takes care of the management of such things.

  2. The 袋 is representative of the placenta or uterus (which is like a bag that contains a foetus).

  3. Breastfeeding on 懐 (ふところ), then the sound got changed to ふくろ。

Gogen also says it's an intimate way to refer to one's mother.

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Thanks for that link! –  Chris Harris Aug 18 '12 at 2:22
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