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I am training at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy, and their use of the word "Oss" is ubiquitous.

I have asked and also answered the question What is the etymology and meaning of Oss? in the Martial Arts StackExchange forum. However, I wanted to see if I could further clarify my answer by understanding the Japanese to a greater degree. I would be grateful for any further references.

What is the etymology and meaning of "oss"?

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    Be aware of not to use "Oss" when addressing elderly people or someone upper rank from you. It would be very disrespectfull. – user31034 Aug 21 '18 at 16:01
  • Interesting. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is used freely, often regardless of rank or age. But here, I believe you mean Japanese culture and martial arts, yes? – jacefarm Aug 21 '18 at 16:54
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    I would recommending removing your own research from the question and adding it as its own answer here, as in your original post on Martial Arts SE. – ukemi Jul 20 at 9:55
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I've researched a little online and stumbled upon a few interpretations of the origins of oss but most of them seem to tackle it the wrong way. There are actually two separate words that seem to be mingled into one but that most Japanese seem to differentiate.

The oss mostly used in martial arts is actually said differently from the other word 'ss. 'ss starts with a muted exhaling sound instead of an open-mouthed "o" use in the oss followed by the same dragging "ss".

osu → oss

Oss, as explained in other articles comes from 押忍, as used in sports in general (baseball students or any other team that trains seriously tend to use it here in Shikoku island) starts with an open mouth sound and finishes with a dragging "ss".

...masu → mss → 'ss

The other similar word 'ss comes from an abbreviation of other words. Those words can be shortened differently depending on the situation and urgency or roughness. Roughness usually equates to determination for men/boys who shorten osu or the other words and is always said with conviction. I've never heard a half-assed 'ss or oss... yet ;)

  • Onegaishimasu → Onuhashmass → uhmass → mss → 'ss
  • Arigato gozaimasu → agmassu → agmss → mss → 'ss
  • Ganbarimasu → ganbamassu → gamss → mss → 'ss
  • Yoroshiku onegaishimasu → yoroshknegaishmass → yoshmass → mass → 'ss

P.S.: I was surprised that no articles mentioned the word ganbarimasu that is widely used all around Japan and shortened the same way.

Compared to the osu, two of those words are often used in the past tense and that's where they become easy to differentiate since there is no past tense for oss.

  • arigato gozaimashita, ganbarimashita → ... [various shortened versions] ... → 'shta*
    *Quite a few other words are shortened to 'shta since it's the common past tense conjugation.

Context

Students and teachers using oss everyday sometimes replace the common 'ss/'shta with an oss in many situations but not in all of them. People not using oss would normally 'ss or 'shta unless they want to show ultimate determination by borrowing the oss from competitive sports. It is then a little out of place, since people around would know that the person isn't involved in an activity usually using oss, and would have a stronger impact.

I guess it's a risky thing to use oss for someone not able to "read the mood" and the oss might be perceived as a joke instead of determination if not said with enough seriousness.

I think that Japanese can put up with a lot of misuses of the language as long as it's not overused or continuous. I don't think that the general public would take any offense in using oss but since it's usually serious business, the best thing is to look at the Japanese people present while saying it and see if they look irritated. Once would be fine anywhere... but Japanese expect people to realize it when they are annoying; reading body language/facial expression is a necessity in Japan.

I hope my input helps to clarify the origins of oss and its close neighbour 'ss. I am sure that if you start to listen carefully you'll "see" the difference quite fast.

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    To add a way to diffenrentiate the "Oss" and " 'ss" the people using the " 'ss" in the morning as a greeting would switch to "' 'wa" in the afternoon for Konnichiwa but people using the actual "Oss" would stick to it in the afternoon. – Dan Jan 31 at 3:31
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You've pretty much provided an elaborate answer to your question, but I'd at least offer one of the more accepted explanation of its origin: an abbreviation of the standard morning greeting,

おはようございます → おはよっす → おわーす → おす → 押忍

as offered here and here (Japanese).

  • I was not aware of the morning greeting, nor those resources. That has helped solidify my research. Thank you. – jacefarm Oct 26 '17 at 16:40
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In a military context, おっす is used in the same way as お疲れ様です. So when passing another soldier on base you greet them with either おっす (which sounds like 'ossss') or お疲れ様(です). I actually thought おっす was a contraction of お疲れ様です until reading some of the other replies here.

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Here is what I was able to discover on my own:

The Meaning of Oss

From Kyokushin Karate:

This strength of character develops in hard training and is known as Osu no Seishin 押忍の精神 (the Spirit of Osu). The word Osu comes from Oshi Shinobu 押し忍ぶ, which means "to persevere whilst being pushed". It implies a willingness to push oneself to the limits of endurance, to persevere under any kind of pressure.

From Carlson Gracie's philosophy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

In BJJ, Carslon Gracie introduced the use of the word “Oss” and it rightly fits the mentality of Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu: Brave, determined, strong, smashing. It’s a bit similar to the war cry “Hoo-ah” that you will hear U.S. Marines use.

The Etymology of Oss, Osu, and Ossu

Oshi Shinobu

Meaning, patience, determination, and perseverance.

Onegaishimasu

Meaning, a polite or honorific way of requesting something from another, of saying "please".

Ohayossu, Ohayoosu, and Oossu

From Jesse Enkamp of Karate by Jesse, who quotes Dr. Mizutani Osamu3:

Meaning, "hey ya", by male runners in the midst of jogging, responding in rougher, masculine ways to Dr. Mizutani's greeting to them of "Ohayo gozaimasu!" (good morning).3

So it seems that the term oss, which is derived from osu or ossu, has a variety of interpretations and meanings.

However, there also seems to be a common essence shared among them all.

"Oss" seems to mean having humility and an acknowledgement of respect for the person to whom it is being spoken; to have a perspective of strength and perseverance towards a challenge that is being addressed, or, that is to be endured; in more general or colloquial contexts, it operates as an affirmative acknowledgment, a greeting, or a polite request.

1FEY, B.R., 1994, To oss or not to oss: that is the question, Dojo Magazine, Winter 1994, p. 80-81
2These are general impressions from training, class, and, sigh, bro-jitsu experiences.
3Mizutani, Osamu, Japanese: The Spoken Language in Japanese Life, Tokyo, Sotakusha, Inc., 1981, p. 59-60

  • Following another's suggestion, I've moved my findings into an answer. I had done this previously, but it had been down-voted, and I had deleted it, thinking I'd done something wrong. But undeleting and resurfacing this as an answer, as the comment above suggests. – jacefarm Jul 20 at 14:58

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