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

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Why is イチゴ written in katakana?

From which language did it come to Japanese? And why does it have its own kanji?
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97 views

Origin of -tai desiderative suffix

Japanese verbs can take the suffix -tai, which attaches to the ren'youkei form and turns the verb into an -i adjective, expressing desire to do what the verb says. I have recently wondered where this ...
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1answer
1k views

Why is カラオケ (karaoke) written in katakana?

I noticed カラオケ (karaoke) is always written in katakana on signs/buildings in Japan, despite it being a Japanese word. Why is it not written in Kanji or Hiragana? As I understand it, the usual reasons ...
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131 views

Why 'okane o haraimasu'?

In sentences such as: Jana will pay for the drinks. or Will the kids have to pay?. Why is it okane o haraimasu instead of ... o haraimasu? [Correct] Examples: Jana san wa nomimono no okane o ...
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243 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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411 views

Words for Ginkgo in Japanese: ぎんきょう and ぎんなん

I decided to read about the words for Ginkgo in Japanese (as in Ginkgo biloba). I was surprised to learn that Ginkgo comes from Japanese! According to Wikipedia, Engelbert Kaempfer, while writing ...
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1k views

Why is 島 used in the name of some cities?

I can understand "島" being used in 硫黄島 (Iwo Jima/Iwo To, literally "Sulphur island"), because it is an island, but why is it used in 福島市 (Fukushima city, literally "Good fortune island") and 広島市 ...
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104 views

Why was 邪 chosen to spell the names of 伊邪那岐神 and 伊邪那美神 in the 古事記?

I had been wondering about this for a while. Consider the spelling of he names of Izanagi and Izanami in the 古事記: 伊邪那岐神【いざなぎのかみ】 and (妹【いも】)伊邪那美神【いざなみのかみ】 (source) Both of their names ...
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4answers
472 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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105 views

Why is スタイル used to denote body figure?

You know how Japanese people say "スタイルのいいお姉さん" to basically refer to "that girl with huge boobs" or "that really tall girl"? I've seen this get thrown around a lot but never really got the rationale ...
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420 views

What is the etymology of イギリス?

I'm trying to figure out where the term イギリス for the United Kingdom came from. I suspect 英国【えいこく】 because they sound similar, but that seems a bit odd as Katakana words are usually loan words.
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327 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 ...
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1answer
121 views

レアチーズケーキ: Does 「レア」 originally come from “rare” or from “layer”?

レアチーズケーキ is a kind of cheesecake which is not baked. What is the etymology of the レア part of this word? Academic references needed, as this is a controversial topic: The top Google result claims ...
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3answers
1k 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 ...
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2answers
164 views

How to tell if a word is Sino-Japanese or Yamato

How can I tell if a word is Sino-Japanese (漢語), or Yamato (和語)? An answer to How 「えい」 should be pronounced in the words like 英語, 先生, etc? talks about the pronunciation of Sino-Japanese words and ...
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6answers
780 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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301 views

Why is the negative form of [べき] べからず?

On http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/should#part5, the author doesn't explain the etymology of べからず. Can anyone explain?
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190 views

How does the negative form of である get to be ではない?

http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/formal#part3 doesn't explain the reason clearly. Can anyone explain?
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430 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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183 views

What does 回 mean in 回答?

What does 回, the kanji for "turn", mean in 回答 "answer"?
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113 views

How did 真っ赤 came to mean “downright”? [duplicate]

We know that 真っ赤 means "deep red," but how did it come to mean 'downright', as in 真っ赤な嘘 (outright lie)?
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2answers
206 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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2answers
189 views

Is おふくろ related to ふく?

Since おふくろ is one way to address one's own mother, I was wondering whether the 「ふく」 part is related to the word meaning 'clothes' or not. And if not, what is the origin of おふくろ?
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334 views

What is the etymology of the word マラ?

Does anyone have an opinion on the etymology of the word マラ, a crude term for penis? Any thoughts on usage are also appreciated. (via archive.org) http://gogen-allguide.com/ma/mara.html
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1answer
107 views

Why did 摩羅 also come to mean penis? [duplicate]

Is there any further implication to be gleaned from this and how did this meaning come to be? Is there any suggestion that the male genitals are somehow an obstacle to enlightenment?
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2answers
115 views

Which grammar rules are applied when でいい is conjugated to nouns?

"ここに名前を書くだけでいいですか?" means "Is it ok to just write [my] name here?" I'm confused about where でいい comes from. http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/must#part5 is about conjugating ていい /でいい to ...
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47 views

Confused about the relationship between 「丸」 as in 「日本丸」 and 「麻呂」 as in 「君麻呂」

Firstly I found that 「丸{まる}」 originated from 「麻呂{まろ}」: 日本水路協会:船の名前にはなぜ「丸」が付くのか Then this answer said that 「麻呂{まろ}」 originated from 「おまる」: 古代日本人の名前についている 「~麻呂」 には何か意味があるのですか? It started to make me ...
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395 views

What is the etymology of the word バレる?

What is the etymology of the word バレる, and why is it often written with katakana? ばれる(P); バレる (v1,vi) to leak out (a secret); to be exposed (a lie, improper behaviour, etc.) (behavior) ...
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84 views

Etymology of モブ

In Japanese, モブ (short for モブキャラクター) refers to a character who plays a minor role in anime/manga/games - source. The same source claims that the etymology is 和製英語 and traces its origin to Japanese ...
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134 views

What does 八 have to do with [八つ当たり]【やつあたり】?

For the longest time, I had never seen yatsuatari written down. I always figured it was written 奴当たり, which I figured would have been derived from 「あの奴に当たる」 or something. Imagine my surprise when I ...
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5answers
1k 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 ...
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675 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: ...
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250 views

Reading 九十九 as “tsukumo”

Why can 九十九 be read as "tsukumo"? I don't understand how those kanji could be read that way.
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64 views

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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1answer
162 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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1answer
159 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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1answer
72 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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189 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
168 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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200 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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79 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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1answer
279 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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150 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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93 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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299 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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39 views

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
421 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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1answer
71 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
233 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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113 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 ...