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 for using katakana are things like:

But カラオケ is a modern Japanese word (which has been borrowed by English from Japanese, rather than the other way around), so I don't understand why it would be written exclusively in katakana?


1 Answer 1


It's not a wholly Japanese word. It's a shortening of [空]{から} ('empty') and オーケストラ. So, since at least part of it needs to be written with katakana, the whole word is written with katakana. (Switching between the two within one word typically only happens in slang verbs like サボる.)

  • 5
    サボる is an interesting example of a phenomenon kind of related to this. While I don't think it's really wrong, I don't think it's entirely accurate to say the mix is necessarily related to its slanginess. サボる comes from the word サボタージュ, or sabotage, which is French (though it may have entered Japanese through English). So what we're seeing is the 動詞化, or verbification, if you will, of loan words, similar to ググる (to google) or パニクる (to panic), both of which take the hiragana ending for the purposes of inflection.
    – ssb
    Feb 19, 2014 at 4:32
  • @ssb True, though there are similar examples that are entirely made in Japan, like モテる or ズレる.
    – user1478
    Feb 19, 2014 at 4:56
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    @snailplane This is true! I meant that comment more as an appendix on サボる specifically and not as a refutation of the point that slang words can be mixed.
    – ssb
    Feb 19, 2014 at 5:10
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    Yeah, the mix does have to do with this weird non-standard する-less verbalisation. -る here is very much a separate morpheme from the root of the verb (the part written in katakana), though it's still part of the word enough for such a word to be considered mixed. I don't know if -every- verb created with this -る is slang, but all of the ones I've ever seen are.
    – Sjiveru
    Feb 20, 2014 at 17:40
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    So oke was borrowed from English to Japanese, and the resulting word "karaoke" was borrowed form Japanese back to English. So it's a true round-trip double borrowing :). There aren't too many words like this, and I love running across them.
    – AHelps
    Apr 23, 2015 at 19:40

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