44 votes
Accepted

Is ま (ma) related to ほ (ho) or は (ha) related to よ (yo)? What does adding a bar to the left mean?

Apart from the diacritic-derived characters, hiragana (and kana in general) should be seen as non-reduceable graphical units. They are not derived from simpler functional units. Their formation is ...
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  • 8,827
40 votes
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Does the on'yomi of 輪 (リン) have any relation to the English "ring", or is it a coincidence?

Is there an etymological connection between 輪{リン} as in 車輪{しゃりん} and "ring" in English? Or is this a false cognate? There are a few things we have to look at to answer this. Derivation of different ...
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38 votes

Why is 一日 'tsuitachi'?

There are a few words in Japanese where the Kanji reading does not match up with the given 音読{おんよ}み or 訓読{くんよ}み readings. These are 熟字訓{じゅくじくん} particularly if the reading is more important and ...
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  • 4,308
35 votes
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Is the Japanese word "pan" (パン) related in its origins to the Spanish word "pan"?

According to jisho.org パン has its origins from the Portuguese word “pão”, and was originally written as 麺麭 or 麪包 before being written as パン like it is today. Is this pure coincidence or do they ...
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  • 6,883
34 votes
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Does 左様なら (sayōnara) have Chinese roots?

Let's dive into this etymology. (My reference, unless otherwise stated, is Shogakukan's 国語大辞典. I've got a dead-tree copy, and there's also a decent online version available for free via Kotobank. ...
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33 votes
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Why do they say 'kawaii' for 'poor thing'?

You are mixing i-adjective かわいい (kawaii, "cute, lovely") with na-adjective かわいそう (kawaisō, "poor, pitiful"). These are simply different, although they share the same etymology. かわいい(かはゆし) actually ...
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  • 264k
30 votes
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What is the etymology behind したっけ

No, this phrase isn't cognate with Standard Japanese あした. したっけ literally means what in Standard Japanese そうしたら. The demonstrative そう is omitted because the whole context before is considered to stand ...
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28 votes
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What is the significance of a repeated radical in a Kanji character?

In general, don't overinterpret repeated components. It's inconsistent and largely a hit-and-miss exercise. Sometimes they just mean "lots of" the single repeated component, or some extended meaning ...
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28 votes

The etymology of 助っ人

Yes, it is 助【すけ】 + 人【ひと】. 助【すけ】 is an obsolete word that means "help; assistance". The currently used verb 助ける is composed of た "hand" + すく "assist". Noun + 人 was a very productive way to coin a ...
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25 votes
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Are there any old loanwords from Korean, especially any not written in katakana?

Any word read in on'yomi in Japanese and using the Sinic hanja reading in Korean is probably ultimately attributable to Middle Chinese, unless evidence can be found of an independent coinage somewhere ...
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24 votes

Why does 前 mean "past" in terms of time, but "forward" in terms of direction?

Probably for the same reason that someone who is "ahead" of someone else is both in front of them physically and also arrives earlier. For that matter, the English word "before" also shares the same ...
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  • 6,521
23 votes

No word for "time" until 1871?

I think the word [時間]{じかん} was created in the Meiji era, but the word [時]{とき} is older. So it's definitely wrong that "the Japanese didn't have any interest in clocks (until 1871)". I searched in an ...
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  • 5,338
23 votes
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呉 is an ancient kingdom in china, how did it become "to give" in japanese?

The use of「呉」in「[呉]{く}れる」is an Ateji (kanji that are used phonetically, disregarding its meaning).「呉」was used because「[呉]{くれ}」was a way to say "China", derived from a Japanese word for sunset (「[暮]{く}...
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  • 8,827
23 votes
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Why is a baby called 赤ちゃん?

For the etymology of 赤ちゃん "baby" gogen-allguide.com says the following: 赤ちゃんの語源・由来 新生児の皮膚の色が赤く見えることによる語で、「赤ん坊」や「赤子・赤児」も、皮膚の色に由来する。 民間語源には、赤ちゃんを意味する韓国語「アガ」を語源とする説もある。 しかし、「赤ちゃん」や「赤ん坊」...
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  • 47.3k
21 votes
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Where does the な in 大人 (otona) come from?

It's [熟字訓]{じゅくじくん}. Excerpt from Wiktionary: A Japanese word whose kanji spelling conveys the meaning based on the individual characters, but the reading is not directly related to the spellling. ...
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  • 2,251
21 votes

Is the Japanese word "pan" (パン) related in its origins to the Spanish word "pan"?

This is not pure coincidence, but the Japanese did not get the word パン from Spanish, but rather Portuguese. The coincidence part is that Spanish and Portuguese are very closely related languages and ...
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  • 7,561
21 votes

Is ま (ma) related to ほ (ho) or は (ha) related to よ (yo)? What does adding a bar to the left mean?

The mighty dROOOze's answer covers the bases. I just wanted to counter with a similar question -- is b related to d related to p? :) Ultimately, the shapes come from unrelated glyphs (character ...
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20 votes
Accepted

No word for "time" until 1871?

Addendum The word 時{とき} is probably the oldest native Japanese word for "time". This term appears in the 万葉集{まんようしゅう} written in Old Japanese and compiled from poems composed from the 300s through ...
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20 votes
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Is 写真 an onomatopoeia?

It's just a coincidence. According to this article, the word 「写真」 and its usage predates photography. The 「真」 part referred to 「人の姿」, so 写真 was used to mean 「姿を写したもの」, and was used for other things ...
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  • 42.4k
19 votes
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Why did の disappear from 山手, but in 御茶ノ水 it's in katakana?

According to Wikipedia, the correct name of “山手線” is “やまのてせん.” In the application form of business license submitted by The National Railway (then 日本国有鉄道) to the government before the start of ...
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  • 9,425
19 votes
Accepted

Does every kanji come from a Chinese character? If so, where can I find the origins of a kanji?

Yes, there are a few kanji that were invented purely by Japanese people. Examples are listed in 和製漢字. Some kanji were reverse-imported to Chinese (see: Japanese-coined CJKV characters used outside ...
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  • 264k
19 votes
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What is the story behind "peach kanji" 桃?

In many kanji, some of the components do not provide meaning, but only sound.「桃」(On'yomi: とう) is made up of semantic「木」(tree) and phonetic「兆」(On'yomi: ちょう). Remember: Kanji were created for Chinese ...
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  • 8,827
19 votes
Accepted

Etymology of レントゲン?

レントゲン is named after the inventor of the X-ray, Wilhelm Röntgen (ウィルヘルム・レントゲン) — who named them X-rays, whence the confusion. A number of words in Japanese medical terminology were adopted from ...
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  • 47.3k

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