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Straightforward question. The Pacific Ocean is 太平洋【たい・へい・よう】 and the Atlantic Ocean is 大西洋【たい・せい・よう】. What was the reasoning in using a different character for the たい in each? And why for Pacific and for Atlantic?

1 Answer 1

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As the characters clearly suggest, 大西洋 simply refers to the big Western ocean. Not much confusion there.

太平洋, however, is an adaptation of the English "Pacific" Ocean. 太平 is a word in its own right that means roughly this: "peaceful" or "tranquil," or "pacific," if you will. According to the page linked at the bottom it had previously been known as 大東海.

It seems like 太 may be a simplified form of 泰, although apparently this isn't listed in all character dictionaries (note that here a person claims to have found it). The word 泰平 exists and is the same word as 太平, and based purely on shape it makes sense that one would be a 略字. So if this theory is to be believed then the 太 in 太平洋 does not mean thick/fat, but rather peace as in 泰平, because 泰 simplifies to 太, and is not to be confused with Thailand.

Lengthy discussion about it can be found here! http://homepage2.nifty.com/osiete/s539.htm

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    That's an awesome explanation. How do people know these things?
    – Kirk
    Oct 21, 2013 at 16:24
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    泰 is not simplified to 太. 泰 is used widely on its own in set expressions, and also with referral to Thailand. in fact, the character on its own would probably be an abbreviation for Thailand.
    – ithisa
    Oct 21, 2013 at 17:21
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    Found this site where a person asks about finding it in "大漢和辞典" detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1316862793
    – ssb
    Oct 21, 2013 at 23:53
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    Another downvote here apparently. Explanation as to why?
    – ssb
    Oct 22, 2013 at 15:35
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    @user54609 According to this dictionary, Chinese also used 泰平 in the past. images.gg-art.com/dictionary ② 安定平和 [peaceful] 泰,安也。——《字汇》 宇泰定者,发乎天光。——《庄子·庚桑楚》 泰而不骄,威而不猛。——《论语·尧曰》 以祈国泰民安。——吴自牧《梦梁录》 家贫躬耕,粟熟则食粟,…处之泰然也。——《元史·许衡传》 否泰如天地。——《玉台新咏·古诗为焦仲卿妻作》 如:泰日(天下太平的时代) 泰治(太平安定) 泰定(安定) 泰和(太平) 泰平(政教清平,国泰民安。即太平) 泰通(国泰政通)
    – marasai
    Oct 22, 2013 at 17:45

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