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Questions tagged [etymology]

語源. The study of the origin of words and the historical development of their meanings. Sometimes used for kanji as well; we currently don't have a separate tag for character origins.

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What semantic role does ⺉/刀(sword/cut) tend to have in Kanji?

判 Has the phonetic component 半, but why the semantic component knife? 刊 has the phonetic component 干, but why the semantic component knife? 剛 has the phonetic part 岡, but why the semantic ...
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How did スマート (from 'smart' in English) shift to mean 'slim, trim' and 'stylish'?

I first learned of this loanword on /r/FalseFriends. Wiktionary: Etymology From English smart. Adjectival noun スマート (-na inflection, rōmaji sumāto) slim, trim, slender ...
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Why is “移民” labelled as a sensitive word in the dictionary? (in relation with or without the history behind the word)

I stumbled again on a word that is labeled as sensitive. This time it's 移民 which means: Noun, Suru verb, No-adjective emigration; immigration [sensitive] (only the suru verb is labeled ...
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1answer
199 views

Is there a reason why 嚥 (swallow -deglutition) and 燕 (swallow -bird) are similar like in English?

I recently came across the kanji 燕, and found out about 嚥 today. According to jisho.org, both translate to "swallow", except that the first one means swallow bird and the second one (with the "mouth" ...
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What is the significance of number 8 (八) in Japanese? [duplicate]

I've noticed a couple of words with the character 八 that have (seemingly) nothing to do with the number 8. 八百屋【やおや】 - greengrocer 八つ【やつ】当たり【あたり】 - taking out anger on someone 八丁【はっちょう】 - ...
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How did 控える come to mean “close to”

In Chinese, 控 means:  1. 告状,指出罪恶:~告。~诉。指~。被~。 (accuse of wrong doing)  2. 节制,驾驭:~制。遥~。 (to restrain/cause to move)  3. 开弓:弓不再~。 (to use a bow)  4. 投:~于地。(to throw something)  5....
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Why is the Japanese word for Brunei ブルネイ and not ブルナイ?

The English pronunciation of Brunei is /bɹuːˈnaɪ/ and the Brunei Malay pronunciation ends in something like /ai/, as far as I can tell (I'm not totally sure about this, but here's the Sultan and the ...
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1answer
161 views

Why is a blackboard called 黒板, but a whiteboard is not called 白板?

I'm curious as to why Japanese uses a 外来語 for whiteboard ホワイトボード, but a native word for blackboard, 黒板. Is there a historical reason this emerged? If you called a whiteboard a 白板{はくばん}, would people ...
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Why does the word for “surgery” 外科 have the 外 kanji?

I can't seem to figure out what "outside" has to do with "surgery". Surely, one type of surgery is amputation (切断【せつだん】) which is about removing (外【はず】す) a body part, but there are many other (much ...
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The etymology of 助っ人

Recently I came across the word 助っ人, surprised to find out its reading was "すけっと". Does its etymology have something to do with 助ける【たすける】 and 人【ひと】? If so, why the disappearance of た, ひ, and the ...
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How can 池仲 be read as 'ikenohata' in the seal 'Ō Ikenohata Jōkin', 大池仲上金? Doesn't 仲 = 'naka'; can it be 'hata'?

If Ō Ikenohata Jōkin is written as 大池仲上金, how can 池仲 be 'ikenohata'? 池 is ike, but 仲 is usually naka? Can 仲 -- and presumably its homonym 中 -- also be read as hata (はた)? Am I missing something? ...
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How to arrive to the meaning of the kanji tonari 隣 through its components?

the kanji 隣 tonari, it is formed by: - the radical ⻖ : こざとへん hill, mounds; - the radical 舛 : まいあし contrary, to err; - the kanji 米 : ベイ rice. Knowing such components, if it is possible, how can I ...
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Why does ―・appear on Japanese dictionary? [duplicate]

For example this definition of 臨む: 風景・場所などを目の前にする。向かい対する。面する。「海に―・んだ部屋」 Why does ―・appear instead of the word itself? What's the reason behind it, how do I call it and why that only exist in a ...
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Where does アフレコ come from?

I looked for the meaning of アフレコ in Jisho.org and after the meaning (dubbing) it says "Abbreviation, Wasei, word made in Japan". So since the word apparently it doesnt come from a foreign language, ...
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Two words from Shinya Shokudou

I have two questions about the TV series Shinya Shokudo. The show focuses on a midnight diner, its chef, known as "The Master", and his involvement with his customers. When the master is taking an ...
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1answer
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When 大 is read as たい versus だい?

There is a general rule that for a kanji compound of the form 大*, you tend to read 大 using 音読み (タイ・ダイ) if * is 漢語 and with 訓読み (おお) if * is 和語. See e.g. this question on goo (in Japanese). (Of ...
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Did 手取り足取り come from Portuguese?

I came across this question on Yahoo where the answerer claims that the expression 手取り足取り is based on a Portuguese phrase, transliterated as テトゥーリァ・シトル and supposedly meaning "to describe in great ...
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2answers
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What does “fukugen” really mean?

I read once that it means something like "reconstruction" or "restoration", but that it is an example of a word that cannot be "truly" translated into English. Could anybody here explain in detail ...
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Which language レシート is adapted from?

レシート is supposed to mean receipt. The adaptation of the word looks a bit odd to me. If it comes from English, why does it lose the "p"? Why it uses a "shii" sound instead of a "ce" (to me there are ...
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Origin of expression ~てならない?

I cannot help but think about the verb なる when I hear or read the expression ~てならない. Are the verb and the expression even related? It feels to me as if it could be the modern shortened version ...
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1answer
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In 上旬・中旬・下旬, why is 上 the start and 下 the end of the month?

I understand that 上旬 means the first 10 days of the month, and that 下旬 means the last (approximately) 10 days of the month. However, I would like to understand the underlying logic for the choice of 上 ...
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2answers
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征伐, せいばつ, seibatsu: a conquest or a 'righteous conquest'?

征伐, せいばつ, seibatsu An old Japanese friend suggested that 征伐, “conquest,” has a moral tone to it and might be better translated as “righteous conquest,” however, most dictionaries simply define it as ...
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1answer
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Where? Variations and usages

I have come across three main ways to indicate the idea of "where" in Japanese: どこ どこに どちら Can anyone shed light on when one is used or preferred over another? Or with what combination of word ...
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1answer
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What is the character etymology of 風?

The Etymological Dictionary of Han Chinese Characters (which is the pdf/book format of the database for an old website called "Kanji Networks") states: 風 (9) フウ;フ;かざ;かぜ A variant form of 鳳 (large ...
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Why is a baby called 赤ちゃん?

Why is a baby called 赤ちゃん? The term means red. Is the term "red" specific? Can the term refer to baby animals as well?
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What's the パ in 非ホジキンリンパ腫?

In the Japanese word for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, where does the パ before 腫 come from?
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1answer
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The convention of including/omitting ‘no zu’ (之圖) in translations

It appears to be common, but by no means universal, for artists/publishers to include 之圖 in ukiyo-e title cartouches (sometimes ノ圖; written のづ in accompanying furigana; occasionally seen 圖 without the ...
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1answer
181 views

What is the origin of the foreign word サクランボ?

サクランボ means cherry in English. However, it is different from the direct conversion of cherry, チェリー. What is the origin of this word? Which language does it originate?
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1answer
76 views

だ versus な in causal subordinate clauses

Why do causal subordinate clauses ending in -から take だ as a means to connect nouns and な adjectives (e.g. 日本人だから), whereas causal subordinate clauses ending in -ので take な (e.g. 日本人なので)? I read that だ ...
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Does the etymology of 星 suggest the japanese/chinese knew the sun was a star?

星 contains the radical 日 meaning sun/day. This makes sense from a modern understanding, as it is well known that the sun was a star. However, it appears this has only been known since the 19th century,...
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2answers
191 views

Is there a good explanation for the forms 大きな, 小さな and 多くの?

Is there a good historical/etymological explanation why 大きい and 小さい can take the な ending in attributive position? Also, is there a good historic/etymological explanation why 多い in attributive use ...
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1answer
136 views

Is there a historical explanation why verbs fall into two categories of pitch accent?

Is there a good historical or logical explanation why all verbs fall into two categories of pitch accent: either accentless (such as 買う, 浴びる) or accented (such as 食べる, 書く)? I am having a hard time ...
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148 views

Is there a good historical explanation why we cannot generally use 言う in the 3rd person in the past tense?

Is there a good historical or logical explanation why we cannot generally use 言う in the 3rd person in the past tense? Why do we have to resort to 言っている for the 3rd person part tense (言っていた), unless it ...
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1answer
226 views

いる/える Godan Verb Rules?

For words like 帰ります is there a specific reason they're Godan instead of Ichidan in any case? Things like a change from an historical pronunciation of the word, grammar relating to the radicals of the ...
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1answer
165 views

Is the pronunciation of 翼 (tsubasa) 訓読み or 音読み?

I noticed that the first two syllables of the pronunciation of 翼 is tsuba, which sounds very similar to Chinese word 翅膀(chibang). 翅膀 is the colloquial form of 翼 in Chinese. Is this a coincidence? Or ...
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1answer
269 views

What is the etymology of Horaisan?

I don't know Japanese, however the word "Horaisan" is of deep interest to me. I've learned that it comes from Horai, the mythical mountain which is similar to the Garden of Eden myth in Japanese ...
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1answer
120 views

etymology of 冬ごもり

I know that 冬ごもり means "winter solitude" so it's clear what role 冬 has in that, but what does ごもり come from? I looked up "solitude" and "isolation" on jisho but nothing with that pronunciation seemed ...
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Question about verbs in Old Japanese

Does anybody with in-depth knowledge of Old Japanese know why vowel-based verbal stems could only end in -e or -i (leading to the える/いる or type 2 class of verbs in Modern Japanese)? Why are there no ...
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132 views

Why does 見合せ mean a service interruption?

Etymologically, why does 見合せ ("exchanging a look") mean "interruption, postponement"?
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1answer
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is there any evidence that ばら is commonly understood as gay

My japanese speaking but not native friend talked about a foreign friend whose name translates to "ばら" (bara - 薔薇) with some native japanese. They quickly objected that she shouldn't call that friend ...
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1answer
164 views

Could ベビーカー be derived from “Baby carriage”?

Most etymologies I've come across for "ベビーカー" assume that it's wasei eigo based on a combination of "baby" (ベビー) and "car" (the "カー" part of "マイカー"). For example, the Japanese edition of Wikipedia ...
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呉 is an ancient kingdom in china, how did it become “to give” in japanese?

I found in the Chinese dictionary that 呉 is the name of a kingdom. But in japanese it means "to give". How did it happen ? Thanks a lot
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Why does 前 mean “past” in terms of time, but “forward” in terms of direction?

Question in title. So far I was able to find that 前 is constructed from Chinese: 舟 and 止, which can be interpreted as "leaving a footprint", hence the "past" meaning, but it seems kinda far fetched.
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Etymology of the irregularities in day-of-the-month numerals

It is of course well known that the numbers used to count days are based on the Japonic numerals, but with a bunch of irregularities when compared to the つ-numbers. Compare 1 ひとつ  ついたち 2 ふたつ  ふつか 3 ...
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1answer
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The yomikata of 十三

This has been obsessing me for quite a while. While 十三 is normally pronounced ジュウサン, it is often pronounced ジュウゾウ in people's names and also pronounced ジュウソウ in names of places. I am wondering how ...
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1answer
94 views

Is the ’’おう’’' in the Volitional ending of verbs related to ''こう、そう、どう'' in any way?

Is there any knowledge on where the volitional ''おう'' Ending originated? As far as my interpretations go having seen a lot of sentences with them, Both the ''おう'' of the volitional and the ''おう'' of ’...
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1answer
76 views

Is the couple 解ける / 溶ける related to the English solve/ dissolve?

I've noticed that 解ける which means 'to be solved' and 溶ける, 'to dissolve' are pronounced the same way. Furthermore the second one can be written using the kanji of the first one. That relation between ...
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2answers
436 views

Why is 九時 (9 o'clock) pronounced “Ku-ji” and not “Kyu-ji”?

Why, when saying times in Japanese, does the pronunciation for 九 (9) change? I recently had to figure this out when my Siri wouldn't recognize it when I asked him to set an alarm for 9 o'clock, he ...
3
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1answer
124 views

Origin of 「~ にとって」?

I just encountered the 「~ にとって」 construction, as in: 「私にとって家族は大切です。」- "Family is important to me". I think I understand what it's supposed to mean. However, I couldn't find any information about the ...
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182 views

Did つ (助数詞) actually mean の?

There are quite a few examples were tsu actually means no. まつ毛・睫毛・睫 matsuge actually comes from 目の毛 me no ke (ma is another pronunciation for 目 me) 沖つ宮 okitsumiya(aslo written 沖津宮, but, as Meikyou ...