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Monday, October 29, 2012

Karate, Karaoke and other 'borrowed' words


Don’t you find our English language fascinating? The two words, karate and karaoke,  muddied up my thoughts as I woke this morning. Just had to Google them to find out more about their origin.

Karate is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan. It was developed partially from indigenous fighting methods called te (literally "hand"; Tii in Okinawan) and from Chinese kenpō. Karate is a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands. Grappling, locks, restraints, throws, and vital point strikes are taught in some styles.

Karaoke (portmanteau of Japanese kara "empty", and ōkesutora "orchestra") ( listen)) is a form of interactive entertainment or video game in which amateur singers sing along with recorded music (a music video) using a microphone and public address system.

What amuses me is that they are both imports from the Japanese even though they refer to two totally different activities. Both are fairly recent additions to our usage of them as English words. Can you think of other Japanese words we’ve started using as English.

Have you ever stopped to think of where some of the words we use on a regular basis come from? One of my novels, The Red Feather (WIP), has a character who is a French law officer working in England. Every so often when he speaks, I decided to throw in a word in French rather than English to help emphasize the reader’s perception of his character. Even though my first language as a child was French, I felt the need to acquire a French/English dictionary to verify the accuracy of the French words I’d incorporated into his dialog.

Interesting to note our language is compiled of ‘borrowed’ words. Many words we take for granted began life in another language. English is now considered an international language with its words originating from a myriad of languages.  

One of the reference books on my shelf is English Through The Ages. The book organizes its content in time periods based on when a word came into common usage. It finally resolves that age-old question: which came first? The chicken or the egg? According to this source, Chicken came first; it entered the English language before A. D. 950. The Johnny-come-lately egg didn’t show up until sometime before 1340.

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