English Words That Come From Japanese


While tycoon now most often refers to a very wealthy and powerful businessperson, the word has had two other uses in English as well. When the United States forced Japan to open full commercial and diplomatic relations with the West in 1854, the real ruler of the island nation was the shogun. Officially only a military deputy of the emperor, the shogun—a title shortened from seii-taishōgun, meaning “barbarian-subjugating generalissimo”—stood at the pinnacle of a feudal hierarchy based at Edo (later Tokyo) that effectively controlled the imperial court at Kyoto and ruled the country. Westerners in the initial period of diplomatic relations concluded that the shogun was a sort of secular emperor and the emperor something like the pope. Townsend Harris, the first American consul to Japan, got the idea that the shogun's correct title was taikun, a Japanese borrowing from Middle Chinese elements equivalent to Beijing Chinese  “great” and jūn “prince.” This word, in the spelling tycoon, became quite popular in America immediately before and during the Civil War as a colloquialism meaning “top leader” or “potentate.” (John Hay, President Lincoln's personal secretary—and later Secretary of State to Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt—referred to Lincoln as "the Tycoon.") After fading from use for several decades tycoon was revived in 1920s journalism with the narrower sense “a businessman of exceptional wealth and power,” a usage that continues to be part of English.


Honcho dates back—in English—to at least 1945, as World War II was coming to a close. American prisoners learned the word while in captivity in Japan. In Japanese, the word translates as "squad leader," from han, meaning "squad," and chō, meaning "head, chief." Not long after the war ended, in 1952, General Eisenhower himself was called the "chief honcho" in the Los Angeles Times. Often the word appears in the mildly redundant but pleasantly alliterative phrase head honcho.


Skosh is another word introduced into English by U.S. soldiers, though this time those soldiers learned the word while stationed in Japan after World War II had ended—our earliest evidence of it in use in English is from 1952. Our word skosh comes from Japanese sukoshi, which is pronounced \skoh-shee. Sukoshi is translated as "a tiny bit" or "a small amount," making our word skosh identical in meaning to its parent word. The English word, however, is also sometimes used adverbially with a, as in "I'm fine, just a skosh tired."


A staple of small apartments, dorms, and guest quarters everywhere, the versatile futonhas been part of our home furnishing vernacular for a long time. The word itself has been used in English since the late 1800s. While English speakers think of a futon as something you sleep (or sit) on, not under, the word in Japanese can also refer to a thick comforter, though the word kakebuton is the more typical word in that context.


In Japanese, the word anime is a shortening of animēshiyon, which is based on English animation, and refers to animated films and shows from around the world, not just from Japan. When English speakers adopted anime in the 1980s, however, it was as a name to refer to specifically Japanese animation and animation done in a similar style.

Our cosplay readers might be interested to know that in the past anime was the name for a cuirass (a piece of armor covering the body from neck to waist) or its breastplate―a must-have for the medieval or fantasy warrior. The name is of French origin and is more than likely from Italian anima, meaning "life" or "soul"


The ginkgo tree was formerly known as the maidenhair tree in reference to the tree's distinctive fan-shaped leaves. The name ginkgo is from Japanese ginkyō, a word ultimately from Chinese words that translate as "silver apricot." The second g in English ginkgo is from an erroneous transcription of ginkyō that has been perpetuated in scientific writing. Occasionally, you might encounter a misspelling of the misspelled ginkgo that misunderstands the word as gingko.


In the 1980s, emoticons—symbols formed using keyboard characters, like ;-) to indicate a joke or, you know, a wink—were crafted by creative typists. Building on their popularity, computer techs began designing images and symbols to graphically encapsulate the emotion of the emoticon. They became known as emojis, and people have been animating their electronic messages with them since the 1990s.

The name comes from Japanese moji, meaning "letter, character," and e, based on ancient Japanese ye, meaning "picture, drawing" (not "emotion").

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/17-english-words-that-come-from-japanese/tycoon