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I don't understand why 口座, "(bank) account" is written with the kanji 座 in it...

I got that 口 conveyed the idea of a number of something from the 広辞苑 which have this definition :

人または物件の数(をかぞえる語)。

But what about the other?

4

座{ざ} literally meaning a seat stands here for a place - a designated spot where a certain action (like transactions occurred).

The word 座 was historically used for a trade guild (and wikipedia article further explains further theories behind its origins); the character is used in the word 銀座{ぎんざ} for a mint and is also commonly used in names of theatres (like 松竹座{しょうちくざ})

So while contemporary bank account might be just a set of records in a database, the word 銀行口座 originates from the place you go to perform bank transactions.

  • Thanks for your answer. We are having a little debate in the commenting section of the other answer, feel free to join in if you can help us : ) – Alox Nov 5 '15 at 14:19
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Backing up macraf's answer regarding the 座 part, Shogakukan's Kokugo Dai Jiten notes this as the first definition for 口座 (emphasis mine):

簿記で各々の勘定が記入されるところ。資産、負債、資本の増減や損益の発生などを各種類別に記録計算するために設けられる。勘定口座。

That said, the derivation of the term as a whole is still a bit mysterious: Shogakukan provides no real etymology, and I cannot find any clearly related meaning for the 口 part.

This term only means "number of people or items" when it is used as a suffix after a number, so that particular meaning is not relevant here. The basic meaning of the kanji is "mouth; gap; opening", but in the context of an "account", this seems less relevant. It may be related to the idea of an opening where one converses with the account keeper (bank teller, shop manager, etc.), as in 窓口【まどぐち】 literally "window opening (which one can talk through)" → "window, contact, liaison".

The best clue is that all of the dictionaries I've consulted (Shogakukan, Daijirin, Daijisen, Shinmeikai) all give the meaning as some variation of "place where an account is recorded", and also list this as a contraction of longer terms 預金口座【よきんこうざ】 ("savings account") or 勘定口座【かんじょうこうざ】 (literally "account account", as in the 口座 account [record] wherein one keeps track of the 勘定 account [amount of money coming in and out]).

So my guess, based on the resources I can find, is that 口座 originally referred to "the place where one communicates with someone [such as a teller, or a shop manager]". Over time, the consistent use of 口座 in larger compounds related to money and accounting led to the meaning shifting somewhat, influenced by the meanings of the larger terms, to become "the place where an account is recorded", and from there, to just the "account" sense.

  • Thank you for your answer, that's useful information. Regarding the 口 though, 広辞苑 lists 口座 under that sense : 4:人または物件の数(をかぞえる語)。「口座・口銭・人口・口分田くぶんでん・伴僧二十口・剣一口 – Alox Nov 4 '15 at 18:28
  • @Alox, I assume you mean that "広辞苑 lists under that sense", and not 口座? I don't have access to the 広辞苑, but in the list of terms using 口, the counting sense really only applies to 伴僧二十口 and 剣一口, both of which are also listed in other dictionaries as usage examples of 口【こう】 used as a counter suffix. There isn't really any counting sense in the other terms. Are you sure that the list of terms is all intended to apply to sense 4? If so, the 広辞苑 is at odds with at least four other dictionaries. – Eiríkr Útlendi Nov 4 '15 at 21:14
  • It takes 口座, 口銭 etc... as examples of words in which 口 has the sense 4. – Alox Nov 4 '15 at 21:28
  • Interesting. This does not agree with other dictionaries. I also personally can't see where they're coming from. The 口 in 口分田, for instance, refers to a "mouth" as in the English expression "mouths to feed", i.e. a person; prior to the early Heian period, a 口分田 was the portion (分) of arable land (田) allotted to a person (口) for cultivation to pay taxes. There's not really anything in this use of 口 that has to do with counting. – Eiríkr Útlendi Nov 4 '15 at 21:44
  • This link says that the 口 part refers to 出入り口. It's not backed up by references though. okwave.jp/qa/q5820214.html – Alox Nov 5 '15 at 14:12

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