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Why is eggplant in japanese written as 茄子 (nasubi) and not just 茄 (nasu)?

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Both are Correct

茄子 can be pronounced as "nasu" or "nasubi"
by itself can also be pronounced "nasu" or "nasubi"

There is another similar-looking word like this that you probably know, 椅子{イス} which is "isu", meaning "chair".

茄・茄子 is read with kun-yomi
椅子 is read with on-yomi

In writing, both of these words are Chinese words. In Chinese each character is one syllable, and sometimes it can be confusing as to where one word ends and another begins when you use a lot of one-syllable words.

So there are a lot of words in Chinese that add the one-syllable 「子」 at the end to make it clearer.

  • 肚子 - belly
  • 妻子 - wife
  • 房子 - room (like in a house)
  • 鼻子 - nose
  • 孩子 - child
  • 胖子 - fatty(デブ)

The native Japanese word for eggplant is なすび or なす, but they liked to write it in Chinese characters (ateji) so it is commonly written as 茄子, just like in Chinese. But, 茄 is also a valid way to write eggplant in Chinese, so you can write it that way too.

To avoid confusion about the pronunciation, you may see furigana like 茄{なす}, 茄子{なす} or 茄{なすび}, 茄子{なすび} - all of these are correct.

Often it is just written with kana, like なす or ナス.

椅子 is a little different, even though it sounds similar. 椅子 is on-yomi because the Japanese pronunciation is meant to sound close to the Chinese pronunciation. And so the "su" sound in i-su, is an older reading of the character 「子」.

In the case of 茄子 the "su" sound actually has nothing to do with the 「子」kanji's on-yomi, but it sure seems like it might!

I've read that the original Japanese word from the Heian period was nasubi(奈須比), but the ladies in court liked to change words by adding an お at the beginning and dropping the last syllable, so it would turn into o-nasu. Then normal people outside the court wanted to sound like the courtiers, but they weren't all so fancy or ladylike so they would drop the お and a lot of common people started to say "nasu" instead of "o-nasu". I would guess that this pronunciation would be reinforced by the use of 茄子 in writing.

Anyway, aparantly that's also where the word for "fart" comes from too...

鳴{な}らし ⇒ おなら

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