I was trying to see how much of the writing on the signs in the park I could make sense of today and found something of interest.

A sign stating what not to do in the park covered not littering and in that section was the turn of phrase タバコのポイ.

I could find the meaning of ポイ online but so far not its origin. It means "throwing away" or "littering".

As it's in katakana I tried to think of an English word it might be based on but couldn't think of anything. Of course not all katakana words have origins in English.

A local friend suggested it could be one of Japanese's famous "onomatopoeia" words. But it seemed to me that just about all of those I'd come across are two syllables with reduplication, and written in hiragana.

So from whence ポイ?

  • 2
    I don't know its origin but I think ポイ/ポイッ is a 擬態語. cf プイ, パッ, ペンッ, バシッ, ポン...
    – user1016
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 13:48
  • 1
    To me ポイ is one of those words that just clearly matches the action it describes.. is there a way to find a first recorded use of it at least?
    – ssb
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 14:00
  • @Chocolate: Yes I tried looking for the right word but it got more complicated than I expected so I just used "onomatopoeia" )-: I hadn't realized there were other short ones written in katakana though! Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 14:54
  • It really said that? タバコのポイ without 捨て? ポイ as a noun by itself strikes me as quite slangy and not likely to appear on a sign, although possible in colloquial speech: ポイはいけないよ!
    – dainichi
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


I just had a look in Shogakukan's Kokugo Dai Jiten Dictionary. The ポイ in ポイ捨て is pretty clearly the adverb ぽい(と). ぽい(と) in turn appears to be a variation from ぷい(と), itself a variation of ふい(と), related to adverb ふ(と).

Onomatopoeitically, ふい and ふ even sound a bit like something rushing through, possibly related to verb 吹【ふ】く "to blow", and indeed, even English has a few similar sound "flavors" (mostly fl-) -- compare flow, fly, flush, fast, flash, fleet.

The f- or h- > b- > p- shift is not uncommon in Japanese, indicating a sharper or more immediate onset of an action. Consider ばしゃばしゃ > ぱしゃぱしゃ, or ほっと > ぼっと > ぽっと. And again, there are even analogues in English where the sharper consonant indicates a sharper action, such as bing > ping or ding > ting.

So ポイ seems to be etymologically related to underlying ideas of sudden-onset action with no apparent intent or cause.


Zokugo-dict says that the word ポイ捨て (litter) is a contraction of ポイと捨てる. And ポイと is an adverb meaning "carelessly/nonchalantly" (throw away/toss aside).

It seems that now ポイ捨て got further contracted into just ポイ.

  • Ah nice. It would be great still to find an ultimate origin though. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 14:55
  • @hippietrail I think Chocolate's comment about it being a 擬態語 might count as its "ultimate origin". 広辞苑 agrees with Chocolate's comment, listing it as a 擬態語.
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 17:09
  • Not really. Just knowing that a "meme" is a noun doesn't tell us as much as that Richard Dawkins coined it in 1976 inspired by "gene" and Greek "mimeisthai". What we know about ポイ might be the best we can do so far, but it's not ultimate by any stretch. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 17:58
  • @hippietrail I'm not sure I understand how you propose to trace the origin of a mimetic word back beyond "it's mimetic of something". But you can always wait for another answer if you think there's more to be found!
    – user1478
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 18:24
  • You don't need to have a proposal to make a discovery. But to declare an ultimate origin you do have to be sure further discoveries will not be made. We didn't know the ultimate origin of "OK" until just a few years ago. That said, earliest uses count for a lot as do comparisons with related languages and dialects. Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 3:14

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