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I used to work in a Japanese restaurant where the owner and his wife always wrote 「かつを」 rather than 「かつお」. I thought this was kind of cool, so I looked it up. The only information I could find was that it was likely a misspelling from before the reform. After all, the reform would have been in effect for only a couple years by the time they were learning to write.

In any case, this got me curious. Are there any words today that the Japanese tend to write with を, whether officially accepted or not?

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According to standard orthography (post-reform) no words are ever written with を, except names and words whose writers exercise "artistic license".

But I don't think in your case it's a misspelling, rather a conscious choice of adhering to pre-reform orthography. (かつお was かつを before the spelling reform.) Opposed to new nonsense uses, like ヲタク (or ワヰン), I think かつを may actually be considered somewhat classy (that would depend on the restaurant though).

Besides restaurants and onsen, ryokan, whatever, を is also reasonably common in names. I have met a number of women called かをる or かをり. (Of course that's because 薫り・香り was かをり before the spelling reform.) Similarly with other obsolete かな like ゑ (e.g. 澄恵 すみゑ) or the repetition mark ゝ (e.g. なゝせ). I have never seen obsolete かな in men's names and I don't really expect to either, because of the soft/traditional connotation of かな. (That said, maybe some parents name their boy レヲン – it's happened to a dog already – just because they can. Ateji for foreign names, as in 零音, as a trend is maybe already on its way out, so next up might be foreign names with obsolete katakana, who knows.)

  • According to the woman who wrote it, it was "a misspelling," but she didn't elaborate on why she might have made that mistake. I had to research it on my own. In other areas on the menu, it was written as 「かつお」 or 「カツオ」. Thank you for your answer. – DallasisaLeo Jun 27 '15 at 2:35
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Officially, no; using を for anything other than the object marker is nonstandard spelling. However, it's often used informally to create a sense of archaism and/or tradition. You'll see a lot of names of washoku restaurants and ryokan and things with pre-reform spellings, and some even go so far as to include hentaigana in their signs. Some people also will use を/ヲ in usernames etc online, simply to be interesting, I suppose.

I imagine that your restaurant's owners were using を either out of simply being used to it and not bothering to change, or out of a conscious decision to not adapt their spelling to the reform when they're writing for themselves. As far as I know, this is a lot less common - really very few people actively use pre-reform spellings in everyday life. People who work with older texts on a regular basis might use these spellings in specific words, but there's no words that the majority of the populace use を in outside of as the object marker.

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