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

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Why does 意味のない mean meaningless? [duplicate]

Why does 意味のない mean meaningless? I can't make sense of it. How does の belong between a noun and ない?
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141 views

Why does 甲斐 use these particular kanji?

Inspired by a recent question about the proper way to write 生きがい, I wanted to ask a long-standing question. According to Kotobank, 甲斐 has the following definitions (my poor translations follow): かい ...
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336 views

Nouns exhibiting vowel fronting

As touched upon in another thread, there are several nouns that exhibit a kind of vowel shift in older forms, where the ending vowel is fronted when the noun is used on its own to become /i/ or /e/, ...
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113 views

What is the etymology of 森羅万象 and what does it mean?

I have come across this word a few times: 森羅万象{しんらばんしょう} If you look it up, you usually get something along the lines of: the creation the universe all nature I would like to know if ...
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60 views

The etymology of 頭{あたま}金{きん}

頭金 means "initial deposit". The meaning of first Kanji is "head", the second - "money, gold". How to understand them both - etymology? "Head" + "money" seems not related.
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140 views

Significance of 「温」 in 「温故知新」

This question came to my mind while playing 漢字読めるカナ for Android to pass time. 温故知新 is a 4-character idiom from the 論語, Confucian Analects, meaning to learn from the past. It is a Chinese phrase* and ...
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1answer
179 views

Etymological connection between 門 and 円?

I'm curious if there's any historical link between the kanji for "gate", 門{かど}, and the kanji for "circle" or "yen", 円{えん}. If 門 is gate, 円 looks like a closed gate. Am I being whimsical and seeing ...
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144 views

Are 済む・澄む・住む cognate?

Which of these words are cognates (share a common etymology)? 住【す】む ("live") (rarely 棲む or 栖む) 澄【す】む ("clear") (rarely 清む) 済【す】む ("end") According gogen allguide and several dictionaries such as ...
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169 views

Old way of counting people?

I always found it funny how the counter for people, 人, has the special cases [一人]{ひとり}, [二人]{ふたり}, but then continues [三人]{さんにん}, [四人]{よにん}, ... However, this summer I came across a neat bit of info. ...
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65 views

What is the etymology of the word 杜撰(ずさん)?

Can this word be derived to original Japanese words or is it maybe, like the kanji might suggest, of Chinese origin?
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267 views

What is the etymology of 〜ません(でした)?

I have always been interested in the negative polite (〜ません) and negative past-polite (〜ませんでした) inflections of verbs. My understanding is that ます is an inflectable function word (助動詞), so I'm ...
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123 views

How did the originally honorific forms of address 君、お前、貴様 become informal or even insulting?

君 means ruler, お前 honourable one towards me, 貴様 worthy appearance. How did these originally honorific terms of address become informal or even insulting?
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78 views

What is the origin of スタンド meaning “desk lamp”?

I'm struggling to turn up any answers on why the word スタンド is used to mean "desk lamp". My guess would be that it's a case of metonymy, but I don't know.
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274 views

_っ_り form adverbs

I keep seeing these onomatopoeic adverbs popping up with the form: _っ_り. Some examples include ぐっすり、ぴったり、すっきり、etc…. Is there a name for these adverbs, and why are they in this specific form?
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Why are い and な conjugated differently? [duplicate]

With い adjectives, to conjugate the verb into positive, negative, present or past tense, you change the い to くない, かった or くなかった. But with な adjectives, you conjugate by changing です to ではありません, でした and ...
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5answers
384 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 that both roughly mean "good". Why are there two different pronunciations despite the similarity, and what are some ways to figure out ...
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160 views

Why is ホワイト spelled as it is?

What is the precise etymology of the word? Was it borrowed at the time when it was pronounced [hwait] or they just perceived it like that?
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1answer
63 views

Where does だらけ come from?

Where does the phrase だらけ come from? I only know だ as a copula and ら as a conditional marker or pluralizing suffix, are either of these at use in this phrase? My dictionary lists it as "implying ...
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1answer
219 views

Where does のみ come from?

I have recently heard that the phrase のみ means "only". Does it come from another compound, like の実 or something? I don't think that's necessarily where it came from, but I would be surprised if that の ...
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100 views

How did 参った come to mean 'defeated' from 参る?

I've heard the phrase 参った and understood it to mean something like 'I/we lost' or 'knocked out'. How did this come from 参る, to visit or go by? I read in a dictionary that it's some phrase said by a ...
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624 views

Are there any common Japanese words which were borrowed from Ainu or other indigenous languages?

I know plenty of Japanese words that came from English and a few from other European languages (obviously tons from Chinese), but what about words from Japan's indigenous languages such as Ainu? Also ...
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2answers
96 views

Etymological origin of -n in 洗 (セン)

I've always wondered why the 音読み of the kanji 洗 is セン when, in all Chinese topolects I'm aware of, the reading ends in a vowel. I always chalked this up to Japanese having borrowed a Middle Chinese ...
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372 views

Where does「えっと」come from?

I wanted to describe that 「えっと」 was similar to "Ummm" in English when someone is trying to think about what they are going to say, but I wasn't even sure if that was correct. Is that just a ...
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395 views

Is “フリーマーケット” sometimes assumed to be derived from “Free”?

Is the term "フリーマーケット" sometimes assumed to be derived from, or meaning, "Free market", as opposed to "Flea market"? (That is, having a false etymology) There is a phrase "Free market" in English, ...
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301 views

Why is the kanji for luck the same as to carry?

Why is the kanji for うん(運) the same as the kanji for 運ぶ? Did the kanji just somehow end up being the same, or were the two meanings related somehow? All I can think of is some kind of "carrying luck", ...
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100 views

The origins of なんだ as in 飲まなんだ or せなんだ

Even here in Osaka I don't hear it very often among anyone even remotely young, but where does this come from originally? Does anyone have a reference on hand? If I myself had to guess from what I ...
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456 views

Imperative used instead of conditional form

This quesion: と言っても vs とは言え . reminded me of a similar case: どっちにしても vs どっちにしろ which are also synonymous as far as I can tell. That got me thinking: Is this coincidental? Are there ...
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2answers
232 views

Why does 目 have a counting sense to it?

Why does 目 get used in situations like 二個目? How did it come about getting the meaning of eye as well as some counting meaning?
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1k views

Etymology of 出来る dekiru

An entry of Tae Kim's blog suggested that 出来る came from Chinese word 出来 that does have the nuance of potentiality, but the most recent visitor's comment claimed that the usage of 出来 in Chinese to show ...
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112 views

Etymology and meaning of ukemi (受け身?) as part of 合気道

I practice 合気道. We do a lot of break falling that we call ukemi. I was led to believe that it meant safe escape from a technique. However, I started looking at the Japanese and found I only had part ...
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186 views

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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1answer
120 views

Etymology of 武蔵

What is the etymology of the old province and Japanese name 武蔵? Wikipedia claims that it is non-Yamato vocabulary from an Ainu language. Even if this is true, why were these characters ...
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211 views

What's the analysis for たりとも?

Quoth Edict, たりとも means "(not) even; (not) any", and is probably used as such: 一問たりとも答えられなかった。(even one question, cannot answer) Is たりとも made up of the individual portions たり ("such things as") ...
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1answer
110 views

Why is Typhoon Neoguri sometimes referred to as “ノグリー”?

Why is Typhoon Neoguri sometimes referred to in Japanese as "ノグリー", and not as "ネオグリー"? The English language Wikipedia's disambiguation page for Typhoon Neoguri mentions that it used to be referred ...
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766 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  → ...
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2answers
212 views

「日焼{ひや}け」 is not representative of a means to nominalize verbs?

I was just thinking about the sunburn I will get during the upcoming 4th of July holiday. Then, I wondered if 「日焼{ひや}け」is a verb nominalization. If it is, I am not aware of such a pattern. Is it an ...
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934 views

What is the etymology of the word Katsu?

I heard from an English man that the katsu karē (カツカレー) dish was from English inspiration originally: he told me that the word 'katsu' is coming from cutlet and 'karē' would be curry. Please can ...
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4answers
738 views

Random meaning of 結ぶ

結ぶ means to connect, tie, or bind things together, either physically or metaphorically. And then it has the seemingly random phrase [実]{み}を結ぶ meaning "to bear fruit". How does this meaning derive ...
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210 views

Why does 生前 mean 死ぬ前?

The word 生後 means something like "after birth". 明鏡国語辞典 defines it this way: 生まれてから以後。 But 生前 doesn't mean "before birth". Instead, it means something like "before death; while [someone] was ...
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1answer
208 views

“Ungrammatical” 丁寧語 used by tour guides and museum narrators

I noticed on my trip to Japan that tour guides in museums etc use a very interesting type of language. It seems to be used almost exclusively by people in Osaka and Kyoto. There are two features that ...
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186 views

Etymology of “よう” in “豆腐{とうふ}よう”

I found out there is a special kind of Okinawan tofu called 豆腐よう. According to EDIC/WWWJDIC it can also be written as "豆腐餻" and "唐芙蓉". "餻" seems to mean "cakes, pastry", but considering that this is ...
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166 views

「春じゃもの」の「じゃもの」はどういう意味?

What does the じゃもの in 春じゃもの mean? The phrase is a koto song title, so I can't give much context. I think my teacher said it meant something like "clearly", or "the essence of". But I can't remember, ...
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129 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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174 views

What does 持った mean?

If context is needed, please consult this previous question. So, there's a bunch of verbs related to "持っ" but how can any of them evolve to 持った?
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2answers
278 views

Etymology of とんでもない

Where did とんでもない (meaning "not at all" or "outrageous!") come from? Could it be 飛んでもない? ("will not even jump/fly" in a similar way how "When pigs fly" is considered a remark for something ...
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355 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: ...
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148 views

What does 金 have in common with triggers/guns?

I read the word 「引き金」and the definition is: 1 小銃・ピストルなどの、指で引く発射装置の金具。 2 ある事態を引き起こす直接の原因。きっかけ。「授業料の値上げが―となって大学紛争が起こった」 起因(きいん)  ⇒類語辞書で詳しい使い方を調べる 誘因(ゆういん) 動機(どうき) モチーフ But why is 金 ...
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325 views

What is the meaning and etymology of the (slang?) word まめ?

私はあまりまめに書きませんが、ことばを学ぶのは大好きです。 I don't write that well, but I love learning the language. What is the etymology of the word まめ here and what specifically does it mean? My friend gave me this ...
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1answer
265 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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2answers
274 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 ...