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etymology of 狼

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etymology of 狼

Postby Dehitay » Thu 11.26.2009 7:12 pm

I've been wondering about this for a while now. 狼 (オオカミ) seems like it would come from a mix of 大 and 神. Does anybody actually know about the origin of the word. I can't help but think there's some kind of interesting story involved.
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby chikara » Thu 11.26.2009 11:05 pm

Dehitay wrote:I've been wondering about this for a while now. 狼 (オオカミ) seems like it would come from a mix of 大 and 神. ....

It looks to me as if it comes from a mix of 犭(犬, inuhen, radical #94) and 良. Maybe it comes from "good dog" :)
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 11.26.2009 11:54 pm

Well, there are two different things here -- the kanji and the word. According to kanjigen, the 良 part is just a sound element, although it's somehow related to cruelty or coldness (opposite of good!). As for the word おおかみ itself, Koujien says it's from 大神 but doesn't provide anymore information than that. かみ has a somewhat wider meaning than "god" in English, particularly in older Japanese.
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby keatonatron » Fri 11.27.2009 12:35 am

Mythically speaking, aren't foxes often related to spirits (神)? Isn't it possible a wolf could be seen as bigger than a fox, but of the same spirit variety?
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby Dehitay » Fri 11.27.2009 3:19 am

I was referring to the phonetic part of 狼 rather than the contruction of the kanji. I know that a number of animals are related to kami in Japanese mythology. And I was wondering if the wolf itself was considered a higher form amongst animal kami or something. The thought occured to me a while back, but I was recently reminded of it while watching Spice and Wolf where they have a wolf kami who's about the size of a few houses in her wolf form. And that only made me further wonder about the etymology
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby furrykef » Fri 11.27.2009 5:08 am

The thing here is that the kanji 狼, like most kanji, comes from Chinese. Basically, when the Japanese make up a compound word out of kun'yomi, and there's a single Chinese kanji that already has exactly the same meaning, they use the Chinese kanji rather than the obvious compound. Another common example is みずうみ (lake), which you would expect would be written 水海 but is in fact written 湖, because that's how the Chinese write the word for "lake". There are other examples, but they don't come to mind right now.

This system makes a little bit more sense when you remember than kun'yomi basically means "meaning", that is, it represents the Japanese meaning of the Chinese kanji, whereas on'yomi represents the ancient Chinese pronunciation. So, what is the Japanese meaning of 狼? The meaning is おおかみ. What's the meaning of 湖? It's みずうみ.

As for why the word for "wolf" is おおかみ in the first place, I couldn't tell you. But the kanji has pretty much nothing to do with that, because おおかみ comes from native Japanese and the kanji comes from Chinese.

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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby Ben Bullock » Fri 01.08.2010 10:08 pm

Dehitay wrote:I've been wondering about this for a while now. 狼 (オオカミ) seems like it would come from a mix of 大 and 神. Does anybody actually know about the origin of the word. I can't help but think there's some kind of interesting story involved.

According to the online version of the Daijirin dictionary,
daijirin wrote:また、古来超自然の能力をもつ獣と考えられ、山の神の化身・使者として「お犬様」と呼ばれ信仰の対象にもなっている。

Translation:
In the past, this animal was even believed to have supernatural powers, and as an incarnation or envoy of the mountain gods, it was an object of worship called "o-inu-sama"

It doesn't explicitly say that this is the origin of the word おおかみ, however.
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Re: etymology of 狼

Postby Dehitay » Mon 01.11.2010 6:23 am

Thanks, Ben, that's that kind of thing I was looking for. I was wondering if it was considered a greater god than average cause of the オオ preceding the カミ, but if the first part comes from オオイヌ instead, that would also make sense.
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