Ten thousand-finger discount

The Japanese word for shoplifting is manbiki, usually written 万引き. That would mean something like "pulling ten thousand" (or "drawing a myriad" in early 20th-C. translatorese) -- if it represented the actual etymology, which of course it doesn't.

Instead, the word seems to have sprung from Edo-accented pronunciation of mabiki, a nominalized form of the verb mabiku (間引く), "pull out [something] in between". You might do this to still-growing vegetables, for example -- pull a few out of the row to make space for the others. (Or you might do it to children on the same principle.)

That's all satisfying and well and good, but then what about the contemporary Kansai counterpart to the word, mangai (万買い, "man purchase")? Did they borrow the Edo term and replace hiku with kau? If so, why would they do that? If not, does their man mean something different?

None of my books even venture a guess, but MAKIMURA Shiyō's Encyclopedia of Osakan language (大阪ことば事典) does record a word man meaning "opportune moment", "chance", "fortune" (probably related to the same ma 間 in 間引く, via its extremely broad semantic range: gap, pause, beat, space, period...). So that could be an easy source for mangai: "'buying' at a favorable moment".

(I should note that I can find sources who claim that this is the man to be found in manbiki, although modern scholarship seems to prefer the explanation two paragraphs above -- I just can't find anyone addressing mangai specifically.)

Bonus word: dejitaru manbiki, "digital shoplifting", a term invented by the Japanese Magazine Association (日本雑誌協会) and Telecommunications Carriers Association (電気通信事業者協会) in 2003 to denounce the practice of using your cellphone to take photos of magazine or guidebook articles in the store for later reference, instead of actually purchasing the entire product as would have been necessary in the olden days.

Self-promotional addendum: My translation of HIRATO Renkichi's poem "Fish" is up at Néojaponisme.

Popularity factor: 9

language hat:

I like "Fish" a lot. Kudos.


Maybe it was adopted from the meaning of pulling out vegetables.

Thug #1: Where'd you get that tasty piece of fruit.

Thug #2: I pulled it out of the vendor's cart when he wasn't looking. To give the others more room to grow.

Thug #1: I don't think it works that way.


I like "fish" too - you make it (translating poetry) look so easy!


Bill: That dialogue works great if you imagine Thug #2 looking shocked and remorseful after Thus #1's second line. (That is where manbiki came from, anyway. Just with less good intentions.)

lh + claire: Thanks! I do what I can. There'll be another Hirato poem of an entirely different character up sometime next week.


Know the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T?


My sources say that 万 was included in the old word for a kind of grocery/variety/everything store, called yorozuya (万屋). The 万 here means "everything," because people thought they could get everything at that small store. Thieves thought so as well, thus 万引き?

This explanation seems too easy to be true, but it's a bizarre coincidence if false.


Anonymous: I think I was confusing it with that famous old badfilm about Manos. Dr T. was clearly a two-fisted shoplifter.

Andrej: I guess that could have been an influence, but the main issue for me is that AFAIK shoplifting wasn't restricted to (and probably predates) yorozuya...


I always thought man-biki meant "100% discount". Or would that be a 満引き?


That's not a bad folk etymology, actually...

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