The study of the origin of words and the historical development of their meanings.

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23
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2answers
2k views

Where does “もしもし” (moshimoshi) for answering the telephone come from?

Does the term "もしもし" (moshimoshi) predate the telephone? Does it have any use besides answering the phone? Where does it come from, is it just a reduplication of "もし" (moshi) "if", and if so how does ...
21
votes
1answer
330 views

How is the wind related to illness?

I've seen the kanji 風 appear in several different illnesses: 風邪 (a cold), 中風 (paralysis), and 痛風 (gout). Conceivably there may be others, but I haven't seen them. What does the wind have to do with ...
17
votes
4answers
467 views

What are the origins of ヶ?

The ヶ in e.g. 一ヶ月 is a bit of an odd character - it looks a lot like a small version of the katakana ケ, but is it derived from that katakana originally? Or is it a normal kanji? Or is it something ...
17
votes
1answer
354 views

How did 革 “leather” come to mean newness?

How did the character for "leather" - [革]{かわ / カク} - come to also convey the meaning for "newness"? 広辞苑 lists one of the definitions (under かく) as あらたまること, あらためること, and we can see this in some of its ...
17
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1answer
589 views

Did ありがとう come from Portuguese “obrigado”?

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?
16
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3answers
517 views

Kanji for native Japanese concepts: Kun'yomi spanning multiple morphemes

There are a few words, which are written with Kanji imported from China, but where the intended native Japanese meaning would prefer a different choice of Kanji. My favourite examples are 雷 vs. 神鳴り ...
16
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1answer
523 views

Why is a place that sells さけ a さかや?

Is it known why a さかや normally has a か, rather than a け like in さけ? Are there many other -や constructions for stores that change the spelling of the word added to?
16
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4answers
452 views

Words made from strokes of a kanji like 女 toくノ一

According to Wikipedia, one theory for the etymology of くノ一 (female ninja) is that it's made up of the strokes of the kanji 女 (woman). Other theories include that it means nine and one, talking about ...
15
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4answers
918 views

Why is the correct counter for rabbits 羽(わ)

Why is the correct counter for rabbits 羽(わ), the counter that is used for birds. I figured it is because they jump, cause fly and jump are the same verb in Japanese, but then frogs are 匹.
14
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1answer
352 views

How did 面白 end up meaning “Interesting”?

面 by itself means "face", while 白 by itself means "white". How did these two words combine together to mean "interesting"?
14
votes
2answers
386 views

Exceptional compounding forms

There are a number of Japanese words which have distinct compounding forms: -a/-e alternation: 天・雨、酒、上、風、目 — many examples. -u/-i alternation: 神([神]{かむ}[集]{つど}ふ)、月([月]{つく}[読]{よみ}) -o/-i alternation: ...
14
votes
1answer
650 views

Why do we say 頼もしい instead of 頼ましい?

In a previous question, I posted a list of adjectives produced from verbs using the しい suffix. In each example, it seems that しい attaches directly to the 未然形: 勇む  →  勇ま + しい    isam-a-sii 悩む  → ...
13
votes
4answers
860 views

Are there any old loanwords from Korean, especially any not written in katakana?

Given the close proximity and long history of interaction of various kinds within East Asia, the great influence of Chinese in both Japanese and Korean, and the similar structures of Japanese and ...
13
votes
2answers
396 views

Where does the word ダイヤ come from that means “train schedule”?

For the longest time I've been hearing the word ダイヤ and just always assumed it meant "Diamond", but found recently it all means "train schedule". My question is, what word/language did this word ...
13
votes
1answer
582 views

Where does です come from?

I've heard various things about this construction from many different people, a few examples of which are: It's a verb meaning "to be". It's a contraction of something like でございます (de gozaimasu) or ...
13
votes
3answers
810 views

Historical differences between colors that are i-adjectives and those that are simply nouns

EDIT: Started a bounty with hope of getting more definitive and elaborate answers, e.g. timeline of when color names started being used in Japan. In Japanese language, there are colors that are ...
13
votes
1answer
228 views

What are the origins of the 「こそあど」 demonstratives?

I've noticed the following sets of words that seem to have a very obvious pattern, and, of course, their meanings are very closely related: これ、 それ、 あれ、 どれ この、 その、 あの、 どの ここ、 そこ、 あそこ、 どこ What are ...
12
votes
3answers
564 views

Why is “Xy” pronounced as “Ki Shi” in Xylitol「キシリトール」?

Why is "Xy" pronounced as "[Ki Shi]{キ シ}" in [Xylitol]{キシリトール}? I believe "Xy" can pronounced as "Zai", which is probably a valid sound in Japanese. I would like to know its etymology too, if there ...
12
votes
4answers
238 views

History of 十干(じっかん)and modern uses

As I was studying vocabulary today, I happened to come across the titular 十干 which are as follows: 甲(こう)• 乙(おつ)• 丙(へい)• 丁(てい) •戊(ぼ)• 己(き)• 庚(こう)• 辛(しん)• 壬(じん)• 癸(き) There's a somewhat lengthy ...
12
votes
5answers
296 views

What is the origin and usage of the word いい?

According to Denshi Jisho, いい and よい share the same Kanji, and the both roughly mean "good". Why are there two different pronunciations for the same meaning, and what are some ways to be able to ...
12
votes
2answers
336 views

What is the meaning and root of 意味くじピーマン?

Recently a friend of mine threw the term 意味くじピーマン (imi kuji pi-man) into a story she was telling, and it totally threw me off. At first I thought, because I wasn't sure how to parse the くじ part, it ...
12
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2answers
253 views

Was 俺 ever gender-neutral?

I've heard elderly women in Japan referring to themselves using 俺. This leads me to believe that the usage has changed overtime to become only used by males. Did 俺 used to be gender-neutral?
12
votes
1answer
233 views

Why did の disappear from 山手, but in 御茶ノ水 it's in katakana?

I realize that very likely the answer to this question is likely to be something along the lines of "that's just the way it is", but I thought it worth asking to see if there were some insights that ...
12
votes
1answer
301 views

Etymology of ひざまずく

I can't resist trying to find patterns in words. These three words, for example, seem to fit a similar pattern: 頷{うなづ}く = [項]{うな} + 突{つ}く (source: community wiki) 躓{つまづ}く = [爪]{つま} + 突{つ}く (source: ...
11
votes
3answers
303 views

The etymology of 関手【かんしゅ】

In Japanese mathematics, the word ‘functor’ is translated as 関手【かんしゅ】. What is the etymology of this word? I suspect that it is a pun on 関数 (function). This leads to two further questions: Why 関手 ...
11
votes
2answers
270 views

What exactly is 「だらし」?

WWWJDIC states that 「だらしない」 can be written with kanji as 「だらし無い」, which suggests that the phrase is a negative construction that uses 「無い」, unlike words like 「すくない」 and 「あぶない」. Furthermore, 「だらしが無い」 ...
11
votes
2answers
331 views

What is the breakdown of countries where loan words originate?

Is there any general idea of what percentage of loan words come from which languages? I always thought the majority of them came from English, but I keep seeing more and more that originated in ...
11
votes
2answers
197 views

What are the origins of ド when used as emphasis, and is it always negative?

Sometimes I've seen ド as a prefix that adds emphasis to words. So saying someone is ドバカ is saying that they are much more stupid than just バカ. I'm wondering what the origin of ド in this context is. ...
11
votes
1answer
531 views

Why “社会の窓” (shakai no mado)?

A few years ago I was told by a Japanese friend "社会の窓" (shakai no mado). It was explained after some giggling that this is what is said to a man who has inadvertently left his fly open, and that it ...
10
votes
5answers
914 views

Is there an objective source of the origins of kanji?

Is there an authoritative source that explains where the different kanji come from and what the radicals mean? I think it's hard to tell from most of the textbooks/other sources whether a shown ...
10
votes
3answers
578 views

Why are wisdom teeth called 親知らず in Japanese?

Why are wisdom teeth called 親知{おやし}らず in Japanese? The literal meaning seems to be something like "unknown to the parents".
10
votes
2answers
354 views

What is the etymology of [山葵]{わさび}?

I know that "わさび" 'wasabi' can also be written using kanji as "山葵" and that these two characters mean respectively "mountain" and "hollyhock", but hollyhock doesn't seem at first glance to be related. ...
10
votes
2answers
1k views

About 「同じ」 {onaji} and 「同じく」 {onajiku}

As far as I know, 「同じ」 {onaji} is not a 形容詞 {keiyoushi} (-i adjective) so how does it become 「同じく」 {onajiku}? Or does {onajiku} not come from {onaji}? Also, are there any other non i-adjectives that ...
10
votes
1answer
189 views

What is the significance of a large く character in literary texts?

I am currently reading an early story by Tanizaki Junichiro in Japanese. I have come across both the hiragana く and ぐ written twice the size they usually are, taking up the same amount of space on the ...
10
votes
2answers
306 views

What is the correct veritable meaning of 水無月 and 神無月?

This question is the result of a conversation with Chocolate in chat, and also this Japanese calendar I have that lists the months according to the traditional Japanese names. For some reason, there ...
10
votes
2answers
291 views

About ご[馳走]{ちそう}: two “runs” would give you “a feast”?

ご[馳走様]{ちそうさま}でした is the greeting that people say after being treat a meal while ご馳走 by itself means “a feast”. I looked up this word in the dictionary to learn more about the kanji characters. It ...
10
votes
1answer
200 views

How can [数]{す}[寄]{き}[者]{しゃ} both mean a tea ceremony master and a “lewd man, a lecher”?

I would like to understand better the etymology or the cultural context surrounding 数寄者 If I believe wwwjdic, this compound is used to denote a tea ceremony master (with a reference to a ...
10
votes
1answer
385 views

What is the meaning/usage of いざ?

Will someone please explain what this word いざ means? I've found several definitions, but I'm very unclear on what it really means and its usage. I've heard it mostly in the following ways: ...
10
votes
1answer
253 views

Unifying concept for noun-adjectives of the pattern Xかな

Consider these: ~か: 静か 愚か 厳か ~やか: 穏やか 鮮やか 賑やか ~らか: 柔らか 滑らか 明らか There are many more that I've not listed. The か/やか/らか at the end of these words ...
10
votes
2answers
297 views

Etymology of 土産 {みやげ}

The pronunciation "みやげ" does not correspond to on'yomi nor kun'yomi of 土産, so I thought it was a gikun (義訓), but the combination of kanji 土 and 産 does not seem to provide the meaning of "souvenir" ...
9
votes
4answers
289 views

Etymology of 右に出る

What is the etymology of 右に出る, as in 「右に出る者はいない」? What on earth makes the right superior to the left? Relatedly, is 左に出る ever used to mean "inferior to"?
9
votes
3answers
989 views

Why does 「やきもち」 mean to be jealous?

I've heard this word used quite a few times now, and I'm tired of pretending to understand it. Why does 「やきもち」 refer to being jealous? Is this a slang word? How do people use this word?
9
votes
2answers
224 views

Where does the suffix 〜がる come from?

I've read that several bits of Japanese come from contractions with ある: だ comes from で + ある (source) なる comes from に + ある (source) たり comes from て + あり (source) たり comes from と + あり (source) ...
9
votes
3answers
397 views

Nuance, usage and etymology of お[出]{い}で

I observed in drama and anime (being outside Japan, those are my only ways of keeping in touch with spoken 日本語) that elder people sometimes say お出で to younger people when they want to say something ...
9
votes
2answers
347 views

Where does the word キレる come from?

I'm unsure of how to use this word 「キレる」. When I looked up the definition, it says something along the lines of "to get angry" or "to lose one's temper". Where does this word come from? I'm somewhat ...
9
votes
3answers
935 views

How did 服 come to have meanings related to both “clothing” and “submission”?

服 by itself means "clothing" (e.g. 服を着る), and there are also some related derivative terms like 私服, 制服, 和服, 洋服, etc. On the other hand, you have words like 征服 "conquest", 克服 "overcoming", 承服 ...
9
votes
1answer
176 views

Was “乎” the manyogana spelling of the accusative/object particle “を”?

In the English Wiktionary entry for "を" there is a quote or example sentence using the character "乎" with no explanation seemingly where the particle "を" would normally occur. Now I couldn't find ...
9
votes
2answers
267 views

Why do some Japanese men use お袋 to address their mothers?

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 ...
9
votes
1answer
187 views

What's the etymology of 負けず嫌い?

It seems strange to me that 負{ま}けず嫌{ぎら}い means "hate losing" and not "hate not losing". (食わず嫌い for example seems to mean "hate a food without trying it".) Providing credible sources if possible, what ...
9
votes
1answer
181 views

What is the etymology of 一人前?

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 ...