Preface: I do not know Japanese, so please forgive any misnomers and inaccuracies. Also please forgive the crude transcriptions of the Japanese sounds; I mean no offense.

When watching anime/playing video games with Japanese soundtracks, I've often heard characters exclaim "ばかな!", apparently roughly transliterated as "ba ka na", which many anime/videogames translate as "impossible" and sounds to me eerily like bu4 ke3 neng2 (不可能 - "impossible" in Chinese). It's obviously tempting for me, with my Chinese background, to think that the phonological similarity is something more than coincidence: for example, I've heard the phrase "KAI SEE" in contexts where it quite obviously corresponds to Chinese kai1shi3/開始, so in some instances such similarities are actually not coincidental. But in this case it seems rather dubious to me that "ba ka na" is some Japanese reading of 不可能, which is a bit "too Chinese" of a construction, and I'd like to settle the speculation for good by inquiring as to the true genesis of this phrase.

So, where did this expression come from? One colleague argued that it stems from the the Japanese word "baka" (馬鹿), in which case I suppose one possible path towards the present meaning of "ba ka na" might be something like "this [situation] is just stupid" > "are you kidding me" > "impossible". Is this accurate, or is it sui generis, or something else entirely? It's driving me a bit mad, since right now everything time my ears hear "ba ka na", my brain hears "bu ke neng".


2 Answers 2


This ばかな is actually 馬鹿な, which is a na-adjective meaning ridiculous, absurd, stupid, etc., used as an interjection.

I don't know Chinese, but Japanese does have a word 不可能, which is relativelly common. However 不可能 is rarely used as an interjection, and is read as ふかのう (fu-ka-noh) in modern Japanese. So the sound similarity of 馬鹿な and 不可能 (in Chinese) must be a mere coincidence. Many Japanese words are of Chinese origin, but their reading are usually different between modern Chinese and modern Japanese. See Sino-Japanese vocabulary for details.

  • Ok. It wasn't clear from the hiragana form whether the colleague's conjecture was correct. This clarifies :) Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 1:02

That probably comes from the phrase:

Such a stupid thing is impossible.


So I agree with your colleague.

  • I can't find the example sentence on the linked page. Where did you quote it from?
    – chocolate
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:39

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