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About 30 years ago, when meeting the famous George Takei, my friend accidentally pronounced his last name as 'Tuh ki' (rhymes with 'hi'). As an 11 year old, he had never really heard George's name pronounced out loud, so this was his best guess. George corrected him and said that the way my friend mispronounced it was actually the word for 'Money' or 'wealth'. He joked that he didn't mind the mispronunciation because it was almost a compliment! What is the word that my friend accidentally used?

Edit: I originally wrote 'Tuh kay', which is actually the correct pronunciation of the second syllable... oops.

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    I had to check and was surprised to learn that George Takei actually speaks Japanese pretty well (uncommon for many famous Japanese-descent celebrities who grew up in America), though he does have a minor accent and makes some mistakes reading from the script. youtube.com/watch?v=va3U1VhhO04 – Darius Jahandarie Mar 27 at 19:23
  • @DariusJahandarie His prosody is almost flawless and honestly his voice is so great that he can be a narrator in Japan if someone tell him how to exactly pronounce each word. – broken laptop Mar 28 at 15:28
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Going by your phonetic transcription:

  • the vowel in "Tuh" actually doesn't exist in Japanese, so it'd be hard to mishear it as another word Japanese word, it'd just sound like a very American pronunciation of the Japanese "ta", so it shouldn't cause an issue.
  • "Kay" (rhyming with "Hey") is actually fairly close to the right pronunciation of "kei", it just sounds a bit American, but not like a different Japanese word.

So, from the information you've provided, I see no reason the pronunciation could sound like a different Japanese word.

The closest Japanese word which means 'money' that I can think of is お金 ("o kane", recordings available here), but that's pretty different -- it doesn't have a 't', it has an 'n', and the final vowel is shorter, so your friend would have really need to have butchered the name for it to sound like that.

(Another related word might be 高値 (takane), but that doesn't mean 'money', it means 'high price'. And still, it has the 'n' in it.)

EDIT: Okay, based on your edit, "ki" (rhyming with "hi") would result in a different Japanese word: 高い (takai). This doesn't mean "money", it's a very common word which means "high" or "tall", though by extension is often used to mean "expensive". Maybe this is what your friend said?

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  • Oops, I accidentally used the correct pronunciation of the second syllable. The pronunciation my friend used was 'Tuh Ki' (rhymes with 'hi'. Does that change anything? – Mark Mar 27 at 19:44
  • @Mark Edited in an answer. – Darius Jahandarie Mar 27 at 19:47
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    I'm sure that's exactly what it was! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer- I am telling this story at my friend's birthday party (over Zoom) tonight, so you have just provided the ending of my story! He will be so delighted!!! Thanks a ton!!! :) – Mark Mar 27 at 19:50
  • Yes, 高い doesn't mean "money", it's a very common word which means "high" or "tall", but Japanese natives will easily or unconsciously imagine this word in the meaning of money or expensive even when he accidentally hear this sound combination of [takai]. – samhana Mar 30 at 3:20

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