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10 English words that were originally Japanese

23 Comments
By Michelle Lynn Dinh

While Japan’s bank of English loan words has grown to the point where “context” and even “paradigm” can be understood by most people, there seems to be only a handful of Japanese words that have been sprinkled into the modern English vocabulary. Of course, there’s things like “manga”, “sushi,” and “karate,” which English speakers can instantly recognize as comics, a Japanese food, and a way to kick ass (in that respective order), but there are also some sleeper agent Japanese words traipsing about our English conversations. Let’s take a look at Japanese words, like “honcho” (as in “head honcho”) and “tycoon” (as in “oil tycoon”), that we use in English.

Futon Origin: 布団 (futon) First known use: 1876

The word futon originally applied to a Japanese-style mattress used on the floor, but in English it’s come to be known as a sofa/bed for those who can’t quite afford either. Despite the change of meaning, futon is part of the English vocabulary, we’ll just have to give a nod to Japan for the linguistic inspiration.

Ginkgo Origin: 銀杏 (ginkyo) First known use: 1773

Although originally a tree of Chinese origin, the name “ginkgo” came from Japan. Etymologists seem to disagree on how the word came to be, but most claim it was created as a result of misreading the Japanese word 銀杏 (ichou) as ginkyo.

Honcho Origin: 班長 (hancho) First known use: 1955

Yes, we hear you all screaming, “But isn’t that Spanish?!” It’s actually not. The word “honcho” comes from the Japanese word, hanchō, meaning “squad leader.”

Hunky-dory* Origin: 本町通 (honchō dōri) First known use: 1865

So the origins of this word are a little shady, hence the asterisk. Some say the word comes from an obsolete dialect of English, but others say the origins lie in Japan. The story goes that honcho dori was the main thoroughfare that lead American sailors back to the port. If they found honcho dori, said as “hunky-dory,” they knew they could find their way home. Other sources claim honcho dōri was a road in Japan that catered to the “needs” of American sailors abroad, making them feel nice and hunky-dory.

Karaoke Origin: カラオケ (karaoke) First known use: 1979

Many Japanese language learners may already know this, but not only was karaoke invented in Japan, the name was taken straight from Japanese, "kara," meaning empty and "oke," short for "okesutora" (orchestra).

Rickshaw Origin: 人力車 (jinrikisha) First known use: 1887

You may think rickshaws are from China, but they were actually invented in Japan in 1869, and used in China four years later. The word, rickshaw, comes from a corruption of the original Japanese, "jinrikisha," which literally means “human powered vehicle.”

Skosh Origin: 少し (sukoshi) First known use: 1952

Skosh, as in “just a skosh off the top” or “give me a skosh more,” was created by shortening the Japanese word "sukoshi," which means “a little.”

Soy Origin: 醤油 (shoyu) First known use: 1679

Although etymologists point to many possible origins of the word soy, it’s thought that the term is a corruption of the Japanese word for soy sauce, shoyu.

Tsunami Origin: 津波 (tsunami) First known use: 1897

A giant sea wave is called a tsunami in English, just like it is in Japanese, although with a slightly different pronunciation. Tsunami literally means “harbor wave” in Japanese.

Tycoon Origin: 大君 (taikun) First known use: 1857

The title of "taikun" was applied by foreigners to the shogun of Japan in the mid-1800s but the English version, tycoon, is used to describe any wealthy or powerful person in business. All those years of playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and I never knew the word came from Japan…

Bonus

“Anime” came from the Japanese version of the English word, “animation” (animeshon). It’s now an English word that means “Japanese cartoons.” From English to Japanese and right back to English. Words are so cool.

Source: Naver Matome

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Things Japanese people believe about British vs. American English -- Learning Language Through Nonsense -- Surprising foreign words Japanese people are likely to know

© RocketNews24

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23 Comments
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I just love the "first use". It is so terribly colonial, as if words weren't really used until used in English and countries weren't really discovered until some Westerner had discovered them.

I believe it should probably read, "First verifiable use in English".

-4 ( +5 / -10 )

Another one is 'skosh,' as in "just a skosh of salt," from 少し (sukoshi). My mother used this world very often when I was a youngster, well before I ever knew anything about Japan.

Here is a link to the definition http://www.thefreedictionary.com/skosh

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Anime" was originally French, not English.

The rickshaw was certainly a Japanese invention, in that it was invented in Japan, but the inventor was an Englishman.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I knew Karaoke and Tsunami, but that's all. I've never even heard Skosh before. Still, Etymology can be quite interesting sometimes. I've never even considered the origin of "Hunky dory" before. It's not a term I've ever used. But then again, I'm what the Japanese might call a baka (馬鹿), so what do I know?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ok Japan you can CLAIM WORDS becareful CHINA might get offended ok the US won't cry wolf!!! LOL

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Are there no Japanese swear words? Such words tend to become international, although not in polite company, so probably "not on topic". I don't speak Japanese, but I would like to learn how to say "thank you" in a polite way. Perhaps somebody could tell me and other readers here who don't know?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Are there no Japanese swear words?

Not really. There are words that are better not said in polite company, but there are not swear words in the same way that we have them in English (and other languages).

I don't speak Japanese, but I would like to learn how to say "thank you" in a polite way.

Arigato gozaimasu.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Interesting. Have to say I never heard skosh before. Usually people say "smidge" or "dash" for "just a bit." I don't really hear anyone use the term hunky dory outside of a few old movies or TV shows but had no idea it was from Japanese. I confess I did think honcho was probably a Spanish word. Who knew?

I would add most English speakers are also familiar with the terms origami (paper folding), hibachi (everyone gets a little hibachi grill for their college dorm or first apartment), kabuki (term "kabuki theater" used frequently to describe politician's actions considered superficial - "for show" only), kimono and yukata (popular as dressing gowns or bath robes or swimsuit cover ups with many English speakers, particularly women), bonsai (the tiny trees featured in the movie "The Karate Kid" and frequently sold out of the backs of trucks by the side of the road in temperate climates like California), Sudoku (type of puzzle that is fairly addictive), haiku (every English speaking school child learns haiku when studying poetry), shiatsu (type of massage), sayonara (goodbye), rickshaw (transportation - bicycle rickshaws are popular in New York and other big cities), kudzu (invasive vine supplanting native vegetation in SW US), koi (in English refers to popular ornamental fish found frequently in backyard ponds and public water gardens), kamikaze (refers to any crazy, gung ho approach to something), geisha (English speakers know them as those pretty, ornamental Japanese ladies who serve drinks and such to men), akita (type of dog - I first heard of them during the OJ Simpson trial in 1994-1995 - Nicole's barking akita led neighbors to discover her body)

There are quite a few Japanese words commonly used by English speakers. Zen (very popular term among English speakers - used generally to refer to neatly ordered minimalist spaces featuring lots of "empty space." Most English speakers are familiar with martial arts words beyond karate. Most know aikido, kendo, sumo, and judo. I expect most also know dojo (martial arts school) and sensei (martial arts teacher). The term shogun is known to most Americans who watched the 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. Similarly most know the terms samurai and ronin from movies and literature. Most English speakers know the term "Mikado" - if only as the title of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. I expect the vast majority of English speakers are familiar with food terms like tofu, wasabi, teriyaki, teppanyaki (a favorite special "celebration" dinner for many English speakers - my bridal party enjoyed a teppanyaki dinner before my wedding), tempura, sushi, shitaki, sashimi, sake. Every English speaking college student knows what ramen is. All good cooks use panko bread crumbs. Vegetarians and vegans know all about edamame. Bento boxes are popular, especially with teen girls. I bought my daughter a bento box to use as a lunch box when she was in elementary school.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I definitely didn't know about tycoon.

"Anime" was originally French, not English.

"Anime" is the abbreviated pronunciation of the English word "animation" (アニメーション). There's actually a French word animé but I think it's just coincidental.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I think the word tycoon come from the work "taikun" which was the title of Hideyoshi in the late 1500's. He wasn't of a higher enough family to get the title of shogun.

I also think that I was using the term Honcho before 1955.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Words like honcho (usually 'head honcho') and skosh have been in regular use in many U.S. west coast communities for many decades. I am fairly sure they came over with the first and second waves of Japanese immigration (late 1800s – 1930s) involving mainly immigrants in agriculture and fisheries.

The first immigrants from Japan and their descendents have contributed greatly to many rural and urban west coast communities in which they lived, despite facing betrayal/internment during WWII. I have fond memories of growing up in the 1970s and meeting some of these salt-of-the-earth type, elderly second generation Japanese-Americans — long before I knew anything about Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Are there no Japanese swear words?

Not really. There are words that are better not said in polite company, but there are not swear words in the same way that we have them in English (and other languages).

Actually, I am aware of some Japanese swear words. I won't repeat them here (for obvious reasons), but profanity occurs in both anime and manga. However, I haven't been aware of the dreaded C word in Japanese. But that's not really the point. The point is that there are swear words in Japanese. Of course, there are some ways of causing offense without even swearing. Using 'Anta' (a contracted form of Anata - meaning 'you'), particularly when speaking to someone higher up than you, can be quite offensive. I typically use Kimi (which, as far as I've been told at least) is the formal and most respectful way of saying 'you'. Getting these mixed up can cause quite a lot of offense. It's the same with honorifics. I try to avoid being informal wherever possible, mostly because I want to avoid causing offence, and I am, as I have previously mentioned, a "baka." There are many times when I would go so far as to proclaim "Watashi wa baka no kamidesu." But I'm getting off topic.

I wonder if there are any other words in the English language that were originally Japanese? I often see words that I think might be, but I'm never sure. Nor do I typically remember them either.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I typically use Kimi (which, as far as I've been told at least) is the formal and most respectful way of saying 'you'. Getting these mixed up can cause quite a lot of offense.

Oh dear. I've surprised you haven't caused offence already. 'Kimi' is the old-fashioned address for one's lord (as in Kimi ga Yo, the national anthem) but in modern Japanese its use is restricted to casual situations only, to intimate equals (lovers, schoolmates etc) and those considered to be inferiors (parent-child, boss-employee (though I think I'd quit any workplace where the boss insisted on calling me kimi)). if you want to be polite, use the other person's name with san. Listen to the people around you - how many of them are using kimi in formal situations and to people they need to show respect to?

When you want to really twist the knife, by the way, kisama is stronger than anta. Use with care, and not to your boss unless you want to go looking for a new job without a reference!

Words are so cool.

Yup.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Actually, I am aware of some Japanese swear words. I won't repeat them here (for obvious reasons), but profanity occurs in both anime and manga. However, I haven't been aware of the dreaded C word in Japanese. But that's not really the point. The point is that there are swear words in Japanese.

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree. There are words that are not used in polite company in Japan, but they do not have the same weight is swear words in English, and cannot really be considered an equivalent. Even the words that are not allowed to be used on TV (incidentally, 'gaijin' is one of these disallowed words) can be used in other company without offense. Consider of dropping the F-bomb around one's parents in English. Some mothers literally wash their kids mouths out with soap for doing such a thing. I was with my wife and our niece one time, and the niece used a certain m-word in reference to female genitalia. I had previously thought that this word was a vulgarity, as it is one of the few words that is beeped out on TV, and I asked if it was ok with our niece to be using it. My wife and her sister talked about it for a moment, and said yes, it was no problem.

It's like the word 'dick' to refer to a guy's appendage. It's not polite, and you probably wouldn't use it at work, but it's not a swear word. It's just uncouth.

Oh dear. I've surprised you haven't caused offence already. 'Kimi' is the old-fashioned address for one's lord (as in Kimi ga Yo, the national anthem) but in modern Japanese its use is restricted to casual situations only, to intimate equals (lovers, schoolmates etc) and those considered to be inferiors (parent-child, boss-employee (though I think I'd quit any workplace where the boss insisted on calling me kimi)). if you want to be polite, use the other person's name with san. Listen to the people around you - how many of them are using kimi in formal situations and to people they need to show respect to?

I have to agree. I don't think I've used the word 'kimi' since my first year here, except maybe a couple of times when talking with my wife. In fact, I rarely use any word at all for 'you', except for 'omae' with my wife when playing around, and occasionally 'anata' in polite situations, though I'll generally use 'sochira' if I'm in a situation where I'd be polite enough to use 'anata' (sochira meaning 'there', but a polite (keigo) way of expressing 'you').

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Etymology and words in general are really interesting.

I have my doubts about hunky dory, gingko and soy, however, but maybe I'm wrong. Hunky dory sounds too English to me, and the sound "ch" from honcho is not hard for English speakers to say, so it is hard to imagine a reason for it to be corrupted at all, much less corrupted into the sound "k"...

Could someone tell me where they say "skosh"? I have never heard that in English.

swear words-

Jim, Stranger, Fox-

It depends on your definition of swear words, really. If you mean body part/ sexual act words (f you etc) or religious words (damn etc) then the answer is there aren't any. (Well one or two like chikusho which is a weak-ish "damn" comes from buddhist term). This is because the body's private parts and sexual acts are just not taboo in the same way here so they do not have the power to shock and express extreme emotion. But if you mean by "swearing" just words for getting angry/ showing extreme emotion, well, there are rude ways to conjugate verbs (seriously!) and rude (or inappropriate based on the hierarchical relationship) pronouns (like "you") that you can use along with a feral change in voice. ( there are 7 or10 ways to say "you" in Japanese (like we have you and thou, they have several more) and some are very intimate or very hierarchical and can be used to mean "you piece of xyz!" or "f you!")

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hunky-dory comes directly from the surrounding port area of Yokosuka. The street Honcho-dori was a quasi-red light district with many drinking establishments frequented by the US sailors during the post-war period.

I had the pleasure of having a retired Master Chief Petty Officer as a neighbor decades ago who told me many stories of his personal experience during those days in that area.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did anyone mention "to kowtow" from 叩頭する こうとうする ?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Never hear the word skosh before. As for hunky-dory, a few websites hint at the first use of that was in a book of American songs entitled , George Christy's Essence of Old Kentucky, 1862:. It looks like just a nonsense rhyme that entered the language.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Something that's always confused me is why English speakers say Akita Inu instead of Akitaken (秋田犬), and Shiba Inu instead of Shibaken (柴犬). Perhaps a foreigner with Intermediate level Japanese result in the popularization of this pronunciation.

Closer to home for me is the satsuma, a variety of tangerine in America but the feudal name of Kagoshima in Japan; the same goes for the Kumamoto oyster, which was first selected for cultivation in Oregon in the 1930s; ironically, it later became extinct in Kumamoto until it was reintroduced a few years ago, with the first harvest taking place last year.

Fox, if the mods will allow this:

However, I haven't been aware of the dreaded C word in Japanese.

Soon after arriving in Japan, while standing with some students (thankfully, businessmen) on a Kyoto subway platform, I asked about three hiragana forming graffiti on the wall behind me; this resulted in much hilarity as they tried to come up with an answer. Hint: Reverse the last two kana of お米.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wouldn't be surprised if hunky dory was a nonsense rhyme in English meaning okey-dokey, as magpie says, and then later got back-related by the navy guys going to honcho dori to have hunky dory times, and then it was a joke that that was the origin, and then the joke became the "truth". Just looking at the spelling and pronunciation, I can't see it coming from honcho dori.

Where do they say "skosh" in the US

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Etymology Online says:

1866, American English (popularized c.1870 by a Christy Minstrel song), perhaps a reduplication of hunkey "all right, satisfactory" (1861), from hunk "in a safe position" (1847) New York City slang, from Dutch honk "goal, home," from Middle Dutch honc "place of refuge, hiding place." A theory from 1876, however, traces it to Honcho dori, said to be a street in Yokohama, Japan, where sailors went for diversions of the sort sailors enjoy.

If that were the case, it would well predate WWII. I'm guessing the former is more likely.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Manga and sudoku are popular. Sukoshi? Never heard. Ramen, sushi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, miso soup(instant). teriyaki, everywhere, Katana knives are sold online (just kitchen knives) There are people who obtain Akita Dogs. Food, Kobe Beef and diners don;t know what Kobe is. There are Okinawa drink and Okinawa Life that USA people eat to live long life.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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