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I found this word today, and I thought it was pretty interesting. I read it in the context of "becoming and adult", or "coming of age", but I'd like to know the etymology of it. I could only find definitions for the word itself, not its origins. At first blush it looks like "one person before/ahead", but it also seems like 人前 can mean a portion of food. "One person's portion of food"? (Perhaps someone is now big enough to have an adult's portions?)

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The etymology is itinin + mae. I could say more about mae, but more likely you are wondering why it means this.

The key is understanding that -mae is a suffix which means: 1) an amount or portion suitable for X; sannin-mae: a serving such as food) suitable for three people 2) emphasises ones attributes or functionality; otoko-mae "manly", ude-mae "skill, prowess"

Source (seems to be popular lately): Daijirin, Daijisen

In itinin-mae, the sense is "a person of ability and skills", hence an adult. This is the second meaning given above. Depending on the context, the first meaning is also possible: a serving (such as food) suitable for one person.

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