More about kara

Patrick asks, how come kara means "China" if it comes from a Korean place name? Good question.

First of all, the specifics. (Yeah, I looked them up.) It is most likely a slight mangling of Gaya, an early-first-millennium "confederacy of chiefdoms" in southern Korea with close ties to (western) Japan.

This was the original meaning. Since Gaya was so important to Japan at that time, and since people worldwide were a lot fuzzier on geography (especially when oceans were involved), it came to mean "foreign" in general, and got applied to Chinese things too. I guess as the idea of China became more important in Japanese culture -- and since Gaya itself had long been absorbed by Silla -- "China" overtook "Korea" as the primary meaning.

As for karashishi, right, "Chinese lion" -- or actually, "Chinese beast". To expand a little on Anonymous' explanation, shishi is the native Japanese word for "meat/game" in general, so if you wanted to specify a lion in particular, you had to call it a karashishi to distinguish it from its subjects, like the inoshishi (wild boar) and the kamashishi (Japanese serow).

(Japanese Wikipedia advances the related theory that shika (deer) is from shi[shi] (meat) + ka[wa] (skin).)

Popularity factor: 12


Interesting. The transfer from 'Korean' to 'Chinese' is parallel to the transfer of Tajik (derived from the Arab tribe Tayy) from 'Arabic' to 'Persian' (and now to 'a Central Asian group speaking a Persian dialect'), if I'm remembering correctly.


Thankyou - that rings true, though I'm stumped for parallel cases in other languages (and getting distracted by wondering about the origins of Irish stew and Welsh rarebit).


I was once privy to seeing a pair of Japanese Serow up in Nikko. But everyone called them ニホンカモシカ. What's up with "kamashishi" then?


Patrick: How about the Pennsylvania Dutch for a distraction?


And Matt: How about the Kanji? Was using "Tang" of "Tang Dynasty" a later ateji for "kara"? There might be something interesting going on there, since "kara" and "tou" can both mean "foreign." As in 毛唐人 meaning "(non-Chinese) foreigner."


"kamashishi" is the older name, I think, or maybe just an alternative one. I learnt it from some poem or something...

Amida: I think that's actually a related story -- during the Heian period, Japan got really, really interested in China, which at the time was the Tang dynasty so that was the name they used for it. Then that word/kanji started to just get used for "foreign" in general. (It was probably then that that kanji it got attached to "kara".) (This is all hypothesis, by the way, I don't have any of my books handy right now.)

IIRC, "Dutch learning" (蘭学) eventually started to get applied to any 学 from Europe, too, not just Holland.

Patrick: I once saw a document in French that had "robe(?) chinoise" for "kimono". Not sure about the "robe" part, but the "chinoise" thing I remember, because it a distinctly Japanese kimono -- there was even a picture -- so "China can also mean Japan" could be a semi-parallel case in French. Or the author could have just have been mistaken or ignorant, I guess.


Amida: Isn't the "Dutch" in "Pennsylvania Dutch" a mistake in sound (misrendering "Deutsch"), rather than a mistake in meaning (relocation of their ancestors from Germany to the Netherlands)? But, being British and living in Canada, what do I know?


That last "anonymous" comment was mine, all mine.


Patrick: It's not a mistake in sound, but a change in the meaning of "Dutch," which once referred, in English, to all the continental Germanic groups. (This meaning is still listed in Merriam-Webster as "archaic.")

It might be noted that for their own part, the Amish, who still use a German dialect, call other Americans "English."


Brian: I did not know that "Dugtch" itself had changed meaning, but it makes sense that it would have - thanks.


Corrections: (1) That was meant to be "Dutch", obviously. (2) Still having problems with Blogger comments.


A word that means "Korean," is written with a character for "Chinese," and is used to refer to Eurpeans. I love Japanese!

Comment season is closed.