The Japanese word yutanpo basically means "hot water bottle." The original referent was one of the many Chinese conveniences imported during the Muromachi period (see also kotatsu): a sealable stoneware or metal container, normally shaped something like a gourd but occasionally fancier, which was filled with hot water and placed in the bedding. Today, the meaning of yutanpo has expanded to include European-style hot water bottles as well.

What interests me about the yutanpo is the word itself. The commonly accepted kanji are 湯湯婆: "hot water" + "hot water" + "old lady". The "old lady" thing is apparently a sort of euphemism for "wife," referring to the fact that it keeps you warm in bed. (I have no reliable source for this, but it makes sense.) Pronouncing the character 湯 /tan/ is a bit unusual in Japanese; this is because it's a tō-on 唐音 or "Tang pronunciation". The more common pronunciation of 湯, , is the kan-on 漢音 "Han pronunciation." There are other cases where 湯 is pronounced /tan/, though, such as tanmen 湯麺 — although here, as Sugimoto Tsutomu points out in Gogenkai 語源海, the 湯 has the more historically recent meaning of "soup" rather than "hot water."

So that leaves us with the question of why 湯 "hot water" appears in this word two times, first representing a Japanese morpheme and next a Sino-Japanese one. Sugimoto's explanation, which basically tallies with other sources I checked, is that originally there was no initial yu-. The word was just tanpo (and it was written in other ways, too: 脚婆 ["leg old-lady"], 湯媼 ["hot-water old-lady-spelt-differently"], etc.) It also appears as <Tampo> in the Nippo Jisho. The yu was added in the 17th century or later, most likely because at some point it was no longer sufficiently obvious that tan meant "hot water" to enough of the people using the word. Sort of a similar process to the one in English that gives us "ATM machine" and "PIN number," or perhaps closer to "please RSVP" or (in French) "le protocole IP" [he said, reading Wikipedia].

Sugimoto suggests that the yu was added during the Meiji period, and indeed the earliest citation the 日本国語大辞典 has for 湯湯婆 is an 1885 kabuki play by Kawatake Mokuami 河竹黙阿彌 called Suitengū-megumi no Fukagawa 水天宮利生深川 ["The grace of Suitengū Shrine in Fukagawa"]:

That's one of those newfangled yutanpo that Hirao sell in Bakuro-chō.

And conversely you can still see plain tanpo around the turn of the 20th century, e.g. in Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規's "Kumade to chōchin" (1899)

The tōro [long wooden hibachi] is burning and the room is warmed up. The tanpo has just been changed.

Maybe if they hadn't been so busy coining words for "freedom" and "society" in the Meiji period, they would have had time to remember what the words they already had actually meant.

Popularity factor: 10

Leonardo Boiko:

That’s neat! A few more found casually on edict:

* 豌豆豆 えんどうまめ pea
* 木綿綿 もめんわた cotton padding
* 無花果果 いちじくか fig
* 表表紙 おもてびょうし front cover
* 豹海豹 ひょうあざらし leopard seal
* 肺病病み はいびょうやみ tuberculosis patient
* 悪悪戯 わるいたずら mischief
* 競馬馬 けいばうま racehorse
* 紅葉葉楓 もみじばふう sweetgum, liquidambar styraciflua
* 何時何時 いつなんどき at any time (is this even written this way?)

and a playful code-switching:

* 蛇の道は蛇 じゃのみちはへび (exp) set a thief to catch a thief


Edict? How did you do that? It has a doubled-up character search mode?

Leonardo Boiko:

EDICT is a simple plain text file (started in 1991 no less!); to do this kind of manipulation on text files is a common skill for us Linux types :)

I did this search with a 17-line throwaway Python script. Finding entries with a repeated kanji is easy. The hard part was when I realized I’d need to filter out repeated kanji yomi, possibly voiced (to get rid of things like くにぐに). This would take significantly more work, so I cheated and filtered away any entry whose reading had repeated kana! (That’s why I tempered the search with the adjective “casually”).


Well, 老婆 means 'wife' in Chinese...

swarthy face:

neat indeed. but do i sense a tinge of anti-modern orientalist nostalgia in your last sentence?

Leonardo Boiko:

It’s cool, man, he’s being _ironic_.

swarthy face:

I see! I've become so serious in my old age I don't even pick up on irony anymore!


"Ironic" is a kind way to put it. More like "reached for the easy (because meaningless) snark when no good way to finish the post presented itself." For the record, I have no objection to either freedom or society, even in Japan.


From Latin to Portuguese, ‘comigo’. ‘Co-’ and ‘-go’ are the same root, with the same function. Originally ‘migo’, meaning ‘with me’, but then the soft ‘-go’ felt, well, weak, and people just added ‘co-’ (with) again.

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