I have been wondering why 色々 meant "various". I reckon that the archaic "various colours" meaning (as listed on Jisho) generalized to "various", but I wonder why (or how, or when) 色々 specifically, from all other repeated kanji pairs which could have meant "various (something)", evolved that way.

I'm not as much searching for an answer as looking for reference on this, which I could not find in English (and my level in Japanese is far from enough to do a proper search), as well as Japanese etymology in general.

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    FYI There is a phrase like 色即是空, where 色{しき} means worldly things. I don't know this is etymologically related - maybe not.
    – sundowner
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


My go-to dictionary for Japanese word derivations is the 日本国語大辞典【にほんこくごだいじてん】 or NKD. Their entry for 色色【いろいろ】 is available here at Kotobank.

According to the details available there:

Just in terms of semantic (meaning) development, the shift from singular 色【いろ】 "of one color" to reduplicated 色色【いろいろ】 "colorful, having various colors" is pretty straightforward. The further shift to "having various qualities" is also not that far to go.

Please comment if the above does not fully address your question.

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    Commenting just to say that this is a great answer, thanks :)
    – Epsylene
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 0:20
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    In Chinese, there is an idiom 形形色色, which means exactly the same things as the Japanese 色色{いろいろ} (CN: 形形色色的人; JP: 色色な人) I guess there are some connections there as well.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 3:46

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