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2018.08.22

Five Common English Words of Japanese Origin

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Over the centuries, the English language has been molded into its modern form through a rich cultural exchange between nations around the world. For instance, a large part of current English vocabulary came from Latin, mostly through French, and there are a number of commonly used loan words from Spanish, such as aficionado, embargo, and mosquito.
Common loan words also include bungalow, which was borrowed from Hindi, alcohol, which came from Arabic, and anonymous, which originates from Greek (source: Oxford Dictionaries).

In modern Japanese, on the other hand, there are a plethora of widely used English loan words such as kompyūtā (computer), baiku (motorbike), and sumafo (a clipped form of the word smartphone). The linguistic exchange seems to have gone both ways, since quite a few frequently used words in English are actually borrowings from Japanese. Here are a few examples.

Tycoon

The word tycoon was introduced into the English language in the middle of the 19th century. In Japanese, the word taikun means great lord. It was used in the Edo period to refer to the shogun in diplomatic correspondence. In modern English, however, it denotes a wealthy and powerful person in business (sources: Oxford Dictionaries and Kotobank).

Sudoku

This popular puzzle game, which requires players to fill out number grids in specific patterns, first appeared in Japan in 1984. Its name is actually an abbreviation of the phrase "Sūdoku wa dokushin ni kagiru," which literally translates as "digits are limited to a single occurrence" (source: Sudoku.com). This highly addictive game has retained its popularity for decades, garnering fans across the globe.

Rickshaw

The word Rickshaw refers to a two-wheeled passenger cart drawn by one or more people. It comes from the expression jinrikisha, which literally means human-powered vehicle in Japanese. The term came into use in the 19th century when rickshaws started becoming a popular means of transportation across Asia (source: Oxford Dictionaries).

Origami

The Japanese art of paper folding is well-known all around the world. The word origami is actually a compound that consists of two parts: ori, which means folding, and kami, which denotes paper. The simplicity of the term is contrasted by the breathtakingly complex shapes and figures created by origami masters.

Emoji

If you have ever owned a smartphone, you are probably familiar with the concept of emoji. The term was coined in the 1990s, and it consists of the words e, which means picture, and moji, which stands for character (source: Oxford Dictionaries). In the era of smart devices, the word emoji is arguably one of the most frequently used words of Japanese origin in English.