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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Is there any reason a lot of body parts use the Month/Moon radical?

腕、胸、お腹、肘、脇、肩 are all body parts, and their radical is 月. I wonder how that came to be?
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35 votes
2 answers
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Where does "もしもし" (moshimoshi) for answering the telephone come from?

Does the term "もしもし" (moshimoshi) predate the telephone? Does it have any use besides answering the phone? Where does it come from, is it just a reduplication of "もし" (moshi) "if", and if so how does ...
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Kanji for native Japanese concepts: Kun'yomi spanning multiple morphemes

There are a few words, which are written with Kanji imported from China, but where the intended native Japanese meaning would prefer a different choice of Kanji. My favourite examples are 雷 vs. 神鳴り (...
32 votes
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What are the origins of ヶ?

The ヶ in e.g. 一ヶ月 is a bit of an odd character - it looks a lot like a small version of the katakana ケ, but is it derived from that katakana originally? Or is it a normal kanji? Or is it something ...
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How did 面白い end up meaning "Interesting"?

面 by itself means "face", while 白 by itself means "white". How did these two words combine together to mean "interesting"?
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Did ありがとう come from Portuguese "obrigado"?

I have heard before that ありがとう came from the word "obrigado" in Portuguese. Is this true and is there any evidence to support this, or is it an old wives' tale?
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28 votes
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Is ま (ma) related to ほ (ho) or は (ha) related to よ (yo)? What does adding a bar to the left mean?

I understand these character similarities might be arbitrary, like M and W being flipped. But it's tripping me up enough times that I thought if I knew a reason, perhaps it would help me memorize ...
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28 votes
2 answers
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How is the wind related to illness?

I've seen the kanji 風 appear in several different illnesses: [風邪]{«かぜ»} (a cold), [中風]{ちゅう・ふう} (paralysis), and [痛風]{つう・ふう} (gout). Conceivably there may be others, but I haven't seen them. What ...
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Is the Japanese word "pan" (パン) related in its origins to the Spanish word "pan"?

"Pan", in both Japanese and Spanish means bread. Is this purely coincidental, or do they have the same origin?
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27 votes
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明日: あす & あした; Is there a difference in meaning and when each is used?

Is there a difference between these two words for "tomorrow" and when each is used? (and is it just coincidence that あした sounds like the past tense of あす?) We tend to be taught あした and then discover ...
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26 votes
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What is the etymology behind る in 日{ひ}/昼{ひる} and 夜{よ}/夜{よる}?

I noticed that there is this る coming up in 日{ひ}→昼{ひる} and 夜{よ}→夜{よる}. I haven't seen ひる and よる used a lot in Classical Japanese, so ひ and よ probably came first. What is the role of this る? Does it ...
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Are there any old loanwords from Korean, especially any not written in katakana?

Given the close proximity and long history of interaction of various kinds within East Asia, the great influence of Chinese in both Japanese and Korean, and the similar structures of Japanese and ...
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25 votes
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Why does 皮肉 mean "irony"?

I gather that 皮肉 can literally mean "skin-meat." I also see that one definition for 皮 is "mask (hiding one's true nature);  seeming." So perhaps 皮肉 can be understood as "hiding the real meat," which ...
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25 votes
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Why did の disappear from 山手, but in 御茶ノ水 it's in katakana?

I realize that very likely the answer to this question is likely to be something along the lines of "that's just the way it is", but I thought it worth asking to see if there were some insights that ...
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25 votes
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Why is カラオケ (karaoke) written in katakana?

I noticed カラオケ (karaoke) is always written in katakana on signs/buildings in Japan, despite it being a Japanese word. Why is it not written in Kanji or Hiragana? As I understand it, the usual reasons ...
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24 votes
3 answers
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Does 左様なら (sayōnara) have Chinese roots?

A related question: What does さようなら (左様なら) have to do with "left"? The English-language A.Word.A.Day list this week is doing a "Words borrowed from Japanese" theme; today's word was ...
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24 votes
1 answer
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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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Why is a place that sells さけ a さかや?

Is it known why a さかや normally has a か, rather than a け like in さけ? Are there many other -や constructions for stores that change the spelling of the word added to?
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23 votes
2 answers
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What is the etymology behind したっけ

僕だけがいない街 anime shows the children saying したっけ! translated as 'See ya!' and other terms, these are from Hokkaido dialect. I guess you can switch したっけ to other forms to say 'See ya': じゃあまた また明日 Anyway,...
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22 votes
4 answers
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What's the difference between "さけ" (sake) and "しゃけ" (shake)?

Today I saw onigiri claiming to contain "しゃけ" (shake). When I asked my friend what that was, she said it was the same as "さけ" (sake), "salmon". So are these two just different readings of a kanji, ...
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21 votes
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How did コンセント come to be used for an "electrical outlet"?

Saw this on a charger I bought online and was really perplexed. What foreign word does it represent? "concentric"? What does that have to do with electrical outlet and where did it come from?
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21 votes
4 answers
991 views

Words made from strokes of a kanji like 女 toくノ一

According to Wikipedia, one theory for the etymology of くノ一 (female ninja) is that it's made up of the strokes of the kanji 女 (woman). Other theories include that it means nine and one, talking about ...
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20 votes
8 answers
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Is there an objective source of the origins of kanji?

Is there an authoritative source that explains where the different kanji come from and what the radicals mean? I think it's hard to tell from most of the textbooks/other sources whether a shown kanji'...
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20 votes
4 answers
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Why is the correct counter for rabbits 羽(わ)

Why is the correct counter for rabbits 羽(わ), the counter that is used for birds. I figured it is because they jump, cause fly and jump are the same verb in Japanese, but then frogs are 匹.
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19 votes
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Does every kanji come from a Chinese character? If so, where can I find the origins of a kanji?

I know that kanji are borrowed from Chinese characters but are all of them borrowed? As a Chinese native speaker, I am wondering the origins of modern kanjis. Most of them are exactly same as the ...
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19 votes
2 answers
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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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19 votes
2 answers
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Why is 五右衛門 read "goemon"?

Why is the name 五右衛門 read as ごえもん? How can the three kanji 五右衛 be read with only two syllables?
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18 votes
1 answer
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Why is 島 used in the name of some cities?

I can understand "島" being used in 硫黄島 (Iwo Jima/Iwo To, literally "Sulphur island"), because it is an island, but why is it used in 福島市 (Fukushima city, literally "Good fortune island") and 広島市 (...
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18 votes
1 answer
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How did 革 "leather" come to mean newness?

How did the character for "leather" - [革]{かわ / カク} - come to also convey the meaning for "newness"? 広辞苑 lists one of the definitions (under かく) as あらたまること, あらためること, and we can see this in some of its ...
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18 votes
5 answers
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What is the origin and usage of the word いい?

According to Denshi Jisho, いい and よい share the same kanji, and that both roughly mean "good". Why are there two different pronunciations despite the similarity, and what are some ways to figure out ...
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18 votes
2 answers
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Etymology of 出来る dekiru

An entry of Tae Kim's blog suggested that 出来る came from Chinese word 出来 that does have the nuance of potentiality, but the most recent visitor's comment claimed that the usage of 出来 in Chinese to show ...
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18 votes
2 answers
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Where does the word ダイヤ come from that means "train schedule"?

For the longest time I've been hearing the word ダイヤ and just always assumed it meant "Diamond", but found recently it all means "train schedule". My question is, what word/language did this word ...
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18 votes
2 answers
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What are the origins of ド when used as emphasis, and is it always negative?

Sometimes I've seen ド as a prefix that adds emphasis to words. So saying someone is ドバカ is saying that they are much more stupid than just バカ. I'm wondering what the origin of ド in this context is. ...
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18 votes
1 answer
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Why "社会の窓" (shakai no mado)?

A few years ago I was told by a Japanese friend "社会の窓" (shakai no mado). It was explained after some giggling that this is what is said to a man who has inadvertently left his fly open, and that it ...
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17 votes
9 answers
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Are there any common Japanese words which were borrowed from Ainu or other indigenous languages?

I know plenty of Japanese words that came from English and a few from other European languages (obviously tons from Chinese), but what about words from Japan's indigenous languages such as Ainu? Also ...
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17 votes
3 answers
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Is 写真 an onomatopoeia?

Is 写真, the word for photograph, in any way a form of onomatopoeia? That is to say, is it at all based on the sound of taking a photo? I'm aware of the meanings of 写 and 真, but when said aloud I ...
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17 votes
2 answers
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Where does the な in 大人 (otona) come from?

As far as I understand, the word 大人 (otona) uses the kanji 大 to represent お and the kanji 人 to represent と. According to this site the readings for 人 do not include な. Where does the な come from then?
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17 votes
4 answers
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How did 服 come to have meanings related to both "clothing" and "submission"?

服 by itself means "clothing" (e.g. 服を着る), and there are also some related derivative terms like 私服, 制服, 和服, 洋服, etc. On the other hand, you have words like 征服 "conquest", 克服 "overcoming", 承服 "...
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17 votes
1 answer
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Where does です come from?

I've heard various things about this construction from many different people, a few examples of which are: It's a verb meaning "to be". It's a contraction of something like でございます (de gozaimasu) or ...
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17 votes
1 answer
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What is the literal meaning of どういたしまして?

どういたしまして 【どう致しまして · 如何致しまして】 you are welcome;  don't mention it;  not at all;  my pleasure; —Usually written using kana alone. 「手伝ってくれてありがとう」「どういたしまして」 "Thank you for your help." "It's my ...
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17 votes
2 answers
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About 「同{おな}じ」 and 「同{おな}じく」

As far as I know, 「[同じ]{おなじ}」 is not a 形容詞{けいようし} (-i adjective) so how does it become 「[同じく]{おなじく}」? Or does 「同じく」 not come from 「同じ」? Also, are there any other non i-adjectives that have -ku ...
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17 votes
3 answers
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What is the か in「か弱い」?

I'm wondering what the か in か弱い, か細い and similar words is. It seems to act as an intensifier. The Daijisen tells me simply that this か is a 接頭語, and translates it as いかにも; it doesn't seem to have its ...
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17 votes
1 answer
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i-adjectives that end in a 〜ない which doesn't seem to be 〜無{な}い

I noticed there are many 形容詞{けいようし} (i-adjectives) that end in 〜ない, where the な is not part of the kanji, and doesn't seem to have the meaning 無い. Examples: 危{あぶ}ない means "dangerous", while 危 means "...
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17 votes
2 answers
664 views

Exceptional compounding forms

There are a number of Japanese words which have distinct compounding forms: -a/-e alternation: 天・雨、酒、上、風、目 — many examples. -u/-i alternation: 神([神]{かむ}[集]{つど}ふ)、月([月]{つく}[読]{よみ}) -o/-i alternation: ...
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What are the origins of the 「こそあど」 demonstratives?

I've noticed the following sets of words that seem to have a very obvious pattern, and, of course, their meanings are very closely related: これ、 それ、 あれ、 どれ この、 その、 あの、 どの ここ、 そこ、 あそこ、 どこ What are the ...
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16 votes
5 answers
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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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2 answers
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Why is 一日 'tsuitachi'?

Why is it 'tsuitachi' if the pronunciation can only be ichi, hito, or hitotsu?
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16 votes
1 answer
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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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16 votes
3 answers
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Historical differences between colors that are i-adjectives and those that are simply nouns

EDIT: Started a bounty with hope of getting more definitive and elaborate answers, e.g. timeline of when color names started being used in Japan. In Japanese language, there are colors that are i-...
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16 votes
2 answers
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Was 俺 ever gender-neutral?

I've heard elderly women in Japan referring to themselves using 俺. This leads me to believe that the usage has changed overtime to become only used by males. Did 俺 used to be gender-neutral?
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