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I was listening to a talking-head this morning. He kept referring to ロサン and ウサン. It's pretty clear he's referring to Russia and Ukraine. However, when I do a google search on these words, it's not really pulling up anything useful. For ロサン, for example, google decides that I must really be intending to search for something about Los Angeles.

I'm fairly confident about what these two words mean. But, I'm curious about their derivation. It's clear that ロ comes from ロシア and ウ comes from ウクライナ.

  • What is サン? Is this sort of expression used for other nations? (I haven't noticed it before.)
  • Why not just say ロシア (same number of mora) or ウクライナ (a bit longer)?
  • Are these terms polite? Derogatory?

What also interests me is that he also spoke about Israel and the US. For Israel, he always said イスラエル and for America, more often than not, he said アメリカ合衆国. Why not also abbreviate these too?

2 Answers 2

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It is simply common to use the initial letter to abbreviate some names. The さん is simply the polite suffix as used with human names like 鈴木さん.

First remember USSR is ソ連 abbreviating ビエト邦.

As other examples, エ軍 or ア軍 is for baseball teams in the U.S. The Wikipedia says they are ambiguos, but the former means Los Angeles Angels for the obvious reason now.

When to use this abbreviation is largely random. I believe it is similar how to create abbreviations in English (like, START taking ST form strategy). I think イ軍 should be appearing, meaning Israeli army sooner or later. America or UK or other countries is not abbreviated with a single katakana, just because they have an associated kanji (米/英/..).

Using the さん is, as the other answer notes, just a whim of the speaker. One element is that those single-katakana abbreviation would not be used alone and they are used mostly in war contexts suffixed by 軍. To use it alone, it would require kanji. So Russia as a nation will be always expressed by 露 and not by ロ. For this reason, ウクライナ is usually written in full.

As a kind of related expression, there is 露助, which is a derogatory way of calling Russians. (Not that abbreviation per se is derogatory; neither is ロさん/ウさん, I think.)

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  • "but the former means Los Angeles Angels for the obvious reason now." I think it must only be obvious to baseball fans. Was there a specific event involving this team and Japanese baseball teams or something? Nov 19, 2023 at 19:44
  • In English, "Russky" (spelling varies; it's usually spoken) is seen as inherently derogatory. It's originally US military slang and I'm pretty sure it derives from 露助. It's derogatory because of the Cold War context; someone who didn't feel that way would say something else. Nov 19, 2023 at 19:49
  • @KarlKnechtel I meant because of him.
    – sundowner
    Nov 20, 2023 at 3:49
  • Ah, I recognize the name but that's about it. Thanks for filling in the blanks. Nov 20, 2023 at 3:58
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Country names are sometimes abbreviated with one kanji, so my guess is that ロ and ウ are such abbreviations (露 and 宇) rather than their initials in katakana. さん is probably the same thing as what is used to person names. It makes the story sound less serious or somewhat comical, but not derogatory.

As it is by far less common to use 以 (or other kanji) as abbreviation of Israel, イさん is much harder to be understood, while 米さん (べいさん) is expected to be understood easily if used in the same context. Anyway, use of (abbreviation + さん) are not common at all.

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