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I know that 之助 is a suffix for generating names. But what is its intended meaning?

Also, there's a lexical item 承知の助 which I understand is meant to be an interjection "Understood!". What's going on there? Is this usage meant to be humorous?

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Yes, [之助]{の・すけ} is appended to [承知]{しょう・ち} in order to make the word sound humorous, regardless of whether it actually sounds funny or not. It's a kind of play on words.

During the Edo period ([江戸]{え・ど}[時代]{じ・だい} 1603 - 1868), many words were modified for fun. Turning a plain word into a name-style word without changing the meaning (or with growing the meaning sometimes) was one of popular ways to be humorous. 承知之助 is an example of it. Another example of this kind of 〜之助 is

いい[気味]{き・み}[之助]{の・すけ}

いい気味 of Edo vocabulary means "feeling good" or "happy to know the unhappiness of whom one dislikes." 之助 was a common last part of men's names, such as [吉]{きち}之助, [半]{はん}之助, etc., in the Edo period. The name-like compound word いい気味之助 means the same as いい気味 but the nuance is somewhat humorous.

[承知]{しょう・ち}[之助]{の・すけ} is also a name-like compound word, and means the same as 承知 but the nuance is somewhat humorous by using 之助. This 之助 is playfully added to 承知, just for fun.

Sometimes, animals were used to create humorous words as well. For example, [面白]{おも・しろ}い was turned into [面白]{おも・しろ}[狐]{ぎつね} or 面白[狸]{だぬき}. A derivative of 面白狸 was 面白狸の腹鼓. All of them meant 面白い, although in some cases they seemed to imply additional meanings for extra fun.

Kami ([神]{かみ}) was also used to create humorous words in order to emphasize the meaning. For example, [上]{あ}がったり was turned into 上がったり[大明神]{だいみょうじん} in some conversation during the Edo period. 上がったり大明神 was a word which humorously emphasized the meaning of 上がったり.

However, most those name-style words couldn't have survived. We can see those old humorous words in 草双紙 or Edo language dictionaries, such as 江戸語の辞典, but almost never hear those words (いい気味之助, 面白狐, 面白狸, 上がったり大明神 etc.) used in present-day life. I guess that the extinction of them is due to changes of people's sense of humor and of naming conventions.

But somehow, 承知之助 has survived. Most of today's people don't use it because it sounds unfunny and too old, but at least we know the meaning and the usage of 承知之助.

 

付け足し言葉

Nowadays, these extra words, such as 〜之助, 〜狸の腹鼓, 〜大明神 etc., are called [付]{つ}け[足]{た}し[言葉]{こと・ば}.

付け足し言葉s are not only name-style words but also any kind of additional words humorously following the base word. People enjoy the rhythm of phrase, association of the meanings of words, and something like that. For example, these are 付け足し言葉.

「[驚]{おどろ}き [桃]{もも}の[木]{き} [山椒]{さんしょ}の[木]{き}」(means 驚き with humorous nuance)

「お[茶]{ちゃ}の[子]{こ}さいさい[河童]{かっぱ}の[屁]{へ}」 (means お茶の子(easy) with humorous nuance)

「しーらんぺったんゴリラ」(means [知]{し}らない with humorous nuance)

In many cases, 付け足し言葉 is young children's fun these days. A picture book 『おっと合点承知之助』 is popular in Japan.

Of course, there are some adults enjoying 付け足し言葉 as well, though. But it's like a hobby or a study.

So, the 之助 in 承知の助 implies something more than the literal meaning, because it's 付け足し言葉.

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之助 was a common suffix for generating nick names. The real name was not widely used and this kind of names was used.

Well, I think English also has a suffix to make words like name like "No problemo!"

This is a phrase came from yedo period to make it sound humorous. This phrase is so old but still somewhat used in informal situation, sometimes "がってん承知の助." I feel the one who says this is really understood and eager to do something. http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E3%81%8C%E3%81%A3%E3%81%A6%E3%82%93%E6%89%BF%E7%9F%A5%E3%81%AE%E5%8A%A9

  • Would you say the meaning of 合点承知の助 is humorously suggesting that the speaker's name is literally "Understood!"? – jogloran Sep 11 '15 at 17:40
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    I do not think that far. It is just a common phrase sounds like a name. It is something like, "See you later alligator." This doesn't intend to call him name. – Keita ODA Sep 12 '15 at 20:29

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