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

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Is B2F, B1F, 1F, 2F, … wasei-eigo?

While visiting Tokyo, I noticed that most levels were indicated by B2F, B1F, 1F, 2F, ... . This doesn't look like the Romaji for -kai or -gai counter-words, which I assume would be chika ni-kai, ...
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349 views

Do 擬態語 (いらいら, きらきら, すっきり, etc.) generally have root words?

I understand that 擬音語 (ぎおんご) imitate sounds, like どきどき imitates a heartbeat. So, if these onomatopoeia don't have roots I wouldn't be at all surprised. But where do 擬態語 (ぎたいご) come from? Do いらいら (to ...
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199 views

Why do we use 子ども to refer to a singular child (and 子供たち for plural)?

I was just thinking about how the term 子どもたち seems redundant since ども and たち are both plural markers. Of course you can use just 子 to refer to a child, but how did 子供 (and thus 子供たち) come to be the ...
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205 views

What is the etymology of the word プラスアルファ?

What is the etymology of the word プラスアルファ(+α)? This is a neologism I believe, however I hear it quite often nowadays. I'm curious to what the origin would be?
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185 views

Does バラの寝床 come directly from the English expression “bed of roses”?

I came across this phrase in a Haruki Murakami short story, and I was wondering if this is just a literal translation of the English phrase? I tried googling the Japanese phrase, but I could only ...
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552 views

What is the most common usage and meaning of もったいない?

もったいない (勿体無い)(勿体ない) can mean "what a waste!" / "too good". Apparently it is originally (?) a buddhist term meaning “The essence or quality of the thing does not exist,” and supposedly has been ...
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220 views

Where does the いかない in ~わけにはいかない come from?

My first thought is that いかない in this phrase conveys the meaning of 行かない, that is, not progressing to something. But this is mere guesswork. What is the history of いかない in ~わけにはいかない? Does it have ...
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372 views

Etymology of 赤字/黒字

赤字 and 黒字 seem to correspond directly to the English expressions 'red ink' and 'black ink', meaning a (financial) deficit/loss and surplus, respectively. If Wiktionary is to be trusted, Mandarin, ...
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What is the etymology behind る in 日{ひ}/昼{ひる} and 夜{よ}/夜{よる}?

I noticed that there is this る coming up in 日{ひ}->昼{ひる} and 夜{よ}->夜{よる}. In addition, I haven't seen the forms with る used a lot in Classical Japanese, so the ones without る probably came first. What ...
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416 views

Why does きいろ mean yellow rather than green?

I know that most of "why" questions don't make much sense as far as linguistics are concerned but I'll ask anyway. I know that き means a tree. いろ means color. It doesn't take a genius to guess that ...
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319 views

Origin of -aru verbs: いらっしゃる、おっしゃる、くださる、なさる

I think all of the mentioned verbs are in the same class, because they all inflect irregularly in the same way: -aimasu for the polite form rather than -arimasu. My question is how these verbs were ...
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169 views

What is the origin of ポイ as in “タバコのポイ”?

I was trying to see how much of the writing on the signs in the park I could make sense of today and found something of interest. A sign stating what not to do in the park covered not littering and ...
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345 views

What's the deal with/origin of the character 曰?

I'm talking about the 曰 from 曰【いわ】く, not the common 日【ひ】 we all know and love. Why would they "make" two characters that look (for all intents and purposes) exactly the same? How do you really ...
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130 views

Why is there 丼 {どんぶり} in 丼勘定 {どんぶりかんじょう}?

How does 丼勘定 {どんぶりかんじょう} (sloppy accounting) related to 丼 {どんぶり} (bowl of rice with toppings)? I mean, why どんぶり of all foods and things? Was there special history for the origin of this set phrase?
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202 views

火の車 Where did it come from

My sensei in class told us about 火の車 that means someone in a difficult financial strait . I was wondering what does it have to do with fire 火 and a car 車?
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255 views

What is the origin of the word 無{な}し?

The word なし, of course, means ない, and it is defined as such in dictionaries. But why does this word exist? Are there even any situations where you can say なし but you can't say ない? Is it a remnant of ...
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277 views

Where exactly in your body is “心”?

Where in your body is [心]{こころ} located? When people refer to [心]{こころ} do they refer to their heart or brain? I assume heart as the literal translation, but I've heard both so was wondering what the ...
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227 views

Mukashi-banashi. Do they borrow from other current dialects in addition to older Japanese?

At my schools 日本語クラブ, we studied a 昔話 (舌切り雀), which like most of the others I've read, had some nonstandard grammatical constructions. I've heard that many of these constructions are archaic forms ...
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182 views

Is there any relationship between the verb 死{し}ぬ and the 音読み 死{し}?

I noticed that both 死ぬ and the 音読み of 死 share a し sound. Is this a huge coincidence between Japanese and Chinese, or is there some sort of relation? I guess the former, because I don't know any ...
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655 views

Etymology of もん・もの

How do I make sense of the 終助詞 もん as in おいしいもん そうなんだもん Although I have only heard it in 時代劇 speak, I guess it comes from もの, which I think should be も + の. But what も can follow the 終止形 and ...
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197 views

regarding the kanjis 嗚呼; 於乎; 於戯; 嗟乎; 嗟夫; 吁; 嗟; 噫; 鳴呼

This question has 2 parts. Why is it that ああ has so many different kanji 嗚呼; 於乎; 於戯; 嗟乎; 嗟夫; 吁; 嗟; 噫; 鳴呼 (source) and is the average japanese (16 yr old and above) able to recognize them all?
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445 views

What function did あり perform in classical Japanese 形容詞?

In classical Japanese, many uses of 形容詞{けいようし} had あり "embedded" in them, e.g.: 熱からず = 「熱し」の連用形+「あり」の未然形{みぜんけい}+「ず」 熱かりたり = 「熱し」の連用形+「あり」の連用形{れんようけい}+「たり」 熱かれ = 「熱し」の連用形+「あり」の命令形{めいれいけい} 熱かる人 = ...
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383 views

What is “ブチャイク”?

ブチャイク All I know is it's referring to someone's "looks" or appearance, and is not flattering. I suspect this is simply one of those "modern" Japanese slang phrases popular among young people that's ...
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428 views

What is the function of と in とある?

What is the function of と in とある? It doesn't seem to be the particle と--it doesn't seem to attach to whatever comes before it, which particles generally do. It also doesn't seem to fit any of the ...
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208 views

How is 潔{いさぎよ}い related to 清{きよ}い?

How is 潔{いさぎよ}い related to 清{きよ}い? First, I'd like to point out this question: [潔]{いさぎよ}い meaning Second, I've found a possible etymology for 潔{いさぎよ}い on gogen-allguide.   Gogen-allguide seems to ...
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347 views

What is the 「ひ」 in 「ひづめ」(蹄)?

The word 蹄 (ひづめ) means hoof in Japanese. Since the meaning is similar to つめ (claw), and since it's spelled specifically with づ, it seems like this word is made up of two parts: ひ + つめ I can't ...
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What is the etymological connection between sake (alcohol) and sha-ke (salmon)?

I read once somewhere that the word 'sake' (酒, Japanese rice wine) comes from sha-ke (鮭, salmon). Can someone explain what this connection is? Any thoughts on why most Japanese people * don't know ...
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204 views

Why is coffee with shochu or awamori called コーヒー割{わ}り “split / divided coffee”?

About five nights ago I went out with a local friend to a traditional Okinawan club in Naha. We were of course drinking 泡盛{あわもり} (awamori) with water and ice. But the girl working there had a drink ...
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134 views

Where does 見 come from in 見捨てる or 見殺し?

I wonder if there is a certain meaning of 見 that isn't immediately obvious or straight-forward. 見捨てる and 見殺し both carry this idea that, through inaction, something bad is allowed to happen. There may ...
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382 views

Does Japanese have any infixes?

In English, we have prefixes, like "pre-"; suffixes, like "-ize"; and arguably, expletives that function as infixes (one classic example is "abso-fucking-lutely"). In Japanese, we also have ...
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518 views

Why does 丈夫 and 大丈夫 mean what they mean?

Looking at the individual kanji according to a dictionary: 丈 means height, stature, length 夫 means husband, man 大 means big, great They seem unrelated to what these words using the kanji mean: 丈夫 ...
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261 views

What does「英」really mean?

I know that the kanji 英 now really has the exclusive meaning of "English", such as in 英語, but I'm wondering what the original meaning was. It's used in words like 英雄, which obviously don't have ...
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215 views

The origin of one of the usages of 狼{おおかみ}

I was watching the anime かんなぎ, and heard the following line: 男はみんな[狼]{おおかみ}だわ! "Men are all wolves!" I was curious as to what it means to call someone a "wolf", so looked 狼 up in Daijisen and ...
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394 views

What is the meaning and etymology of 蝶よ花よ?

In a book I was reading, a tomboyish character complained about the expectations her parents had of her as their only daughter. She said: 「蝶よ花よと育てたかったらしいんだけど」 EDICT defines 蝶よ花よ as "bringing up ...
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487 views

Why does 「というもの」 have a meaning of “recently/since”?

I have given three examples below to illustrate my question. I can't understand why the expression "というもの” equates to "recently/since". この一週間というもの、忙しくてほとんど寝ていない。  For the / since last week I ...
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296 views

Are there verbs that end with ず,づ, ふ, ぷ, しゅう, ちゅう and じゅう? Why not?

I noticed that verb ending syllables cover all of -u syllables (る,く,ぐ,す,つ etc) except ず,づ, ふ, ぷ, しゅう, ちゅう and じゅう. I suspect that ず is reserved for the negative conjugation thus no plain form verb ...
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592 views

Etymology of transitive/intransitive verb pairs

Many verbs come in pairs, frequently but not always transitive/intransitive pairs. These verbs generally have multiple okurigana characters, but according to my dictionary one of the pair was formerly ...
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225 views

What is the わ in 忌まわしい and 嘆かわしい?

On chat, Chocolate helped me find some examples of adjectives produced from verbs using the しい suffix. In the following examples, it appears to attach directly to the 未然形: 勇む  →  勇ま + しい 悩む ...
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294 views

What is the difference between 照{て}れる and 照{て}れてる?

According to my dictionary, both 照{て}れる and 照{て}れてる mean to be shy, or be awkward. I don't think one is a different verb form of the other. The て+いる form of 照れる would be 照れている, not 照れてる. So I think ...
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198 views

What is the etymology of 赤の他人?

彼は赤の他人だよ — He's a total stranger to me How did "red stranger" come to mean "total stranger" in Japanese? Is there anything that makes this expression make sense more than "That's just what it ...
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93 views

Etymology of ギリシャ: what language does “girisha” come from?

I have trouble remembering that Greece is called ギリシャ. Understanding the etymology behind would probably help me? What is the etymology of the word ギリシャ? What language(s) was the name inspired by?
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104 views

Volitional + が ; ~おう + が

The sentence is :  まあ 何人来ようが || どうってこともないがな... (|| = Column break.) It doesn't matter how many people want to come... I'm not sure whether the first が is the subject particle (and ...
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830 views

What is the literal meaning of どういたしまして?

どういたしまして 【どう致しまして · 如何致しまして】 you are welcome;  don't mention it;  not at all;  my pleasure; —Usually written using kana alone. 「手伝ってくれてありがとう」「どういたしまして」 "Thank you for your help." "It's ...
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212 views

Origin of 信じる, 感じる, etc?

Wikipedia claims that Japanese verbs are a closed class and that loanwords from Chinese always use する. 信じる, 感じる seems to be an exception. Why aren't they 信をする and 感をする? Maybe because one kanji is too ...
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336 views

Why do ~なんてもんじゃないよ/~たのなのって=とても?

Both the following two expressions from my text book 完全マスター聴解N1 are explained as とても(高い/人が多かった): 高いなんてもんじゃないよ 人が多かったのなのって Could someone explain what they are based on/where they come from ...
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129 views

On “おてもと” and its many variants for “chopsticks”

I've always known the Japanese word for "chopsticks" to be (お)箸{はし}. Today in my usual practice of reading everything around me I looked up what was written on the wrapper of the disposable ...
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158 views

The thin line? What is 線がうすい's meaning and etymology?

I just found this phrase in my book (I don't know how much context is relevant, this is the entire sentence): それにな、わたしが商人の線がうすい、といった理由はもうひとつある。 I looked up the phrase and found this 線が細い. It ...
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226 views

How did 冷やかし come to mean “window-shopping”?

I'm curious how 冷やかし came to mean things such as 買わずに見る and からかう. Here's what I can figure out: hiya seems to be a root meaning "cold" (like in hiya-ya-ka) hiya-k-u is an old verb based on this ...
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1answer
202 views

Why is topology called 位相幾何学?

Topology in English is called 位相幾何学 in Japanese; also, topological space is called 位相空間. But why is topology called 位相幾何学? What is the correspondence between topo and 位相? What is the origin of 位相?
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192 views

Reading 塞 and 省: When on and kun readings go together

I looked up 塞 in my 漢和辞典, and I found four readings: 音:サイ、ソク 訓:とりで、ふさ・ぐ What I noticed is that サイ is used when the kanji means とりで, and ソク is used when the kanji means ふさぐ: 「とりで」の意味: ...