The Study of Japanese Words

August 3, 2009

By no means take this seriously. I was rummaging through some old school notes from my University’s Japanese classes and I managed to dig out a couple of silly stories from the teaches.

Namely, the origins of some Japanese words! And a joke.

Easy stuff first (of course!), the first 2 are from K-san, the more “tame” of our sensei.

パン – Bread – Possibly from the Portuguese word for bread, “Pão”

天ぷら – Tempura – Possibly from the Portuguese word for to season, “Temperar”

and the gem, from our “Slang Master Sensei”, E-san, who’s a nice guy but can throw some crude joke. Oh, and he’s the one that contemplated on hitting on me but other Professors said the age difference is too big. Thanks, unknown professor! I like E-san enough as a sensei, but not as a 彼氏, thank you very much!

バカ – Baka – Long story short, when the Portuguese settled in Japan, the Japanese might have heard them Portuguese say “Maluco!” (crazy!), and consequently somehow converted to 馬鹿 (まろく, which sounds similar to Maluco)and started reading 馬鹿 by the Kun reading into バカ.

A crude joke from E-san

Going to a party organized by the Portuguese governor back then, he wore a tie that had lots of fishies. Then he chatted Portuguese ladies up, and lured them into asking “So how to you say fish in Japanese?” and he’d happily and loudly reply, サカナ!ムイト・サカナ! Sakana! Muito Sakana! Apparently in Portuguese, “Sacana” is a foul word meaning jerk or motherfucker or something along those lines. Man, that man has some weird sense of humour!

K-san, a cat lover, has his birthday on 22nd February – he decided to call the day 「ニャン子の日」 since it’s 222 so it’s ニャニャニャ, the Japanese Onomatopoeia for “meow”. How he made the connection, I have no idea.

That’s about all I have to share, I guess! :3



  1. Thank you very much for the comment!


    This was a fun post to read. It’s always interesting to see where the origin of a word came/could have come from.

    It’s interesting how some words sound similar to other languages and then of course the other languages word is a “bad” word.

    Thanks again for the comment and it was nice to “meet” you 🙂

    • oh, welcome! Your blog was also interesting to read – gives me some hands-on practice on reading Japanese, which is always hard on my own ^^;

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