Words with the same bases/roots in both English and Japanese

Have you noticed many words that have the same bases/roots in both English and Japanese?

I’m a casual etymology nerd and it delights me every time I notice these. Let’s make a list!

Try to only add words that have the same number of morphemes. Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units. To make things clearer, we’ll limit these. We won’t count grammatical markers. The number of morphemes should be 1:1, that is, for every meaning, not grammatical morpheme in Japanese, there should be one in English too. So even though “laborer” and 労働者(ろうどうしゃ) both mean laborer and we can exclude “-er” and (しゃ) since they’re both grammatical, it would be 2 morphemes (ろう) and (どう) to 1 morpheme in the English, ‘labor.’ They must also match in meaning. For example while “biology” and 動物学(どうぶつがく) both mean biology and we can disregard (もの) since it’s a grammar component, 動物学(どうぶつがく) breaks down into ‘moving (thing) study’ while “biology” is ‘life/living study.’

I’ll try to make a wiki. It’s my first time so please let me know if it doesn’t work properly.

English word Japanese word Parts/Kanji Literal meaning Language(s) of origin for English
Homicide 殺人 Hom(o)-人, (i)cide-殺 Man killing Latin
Suicide 自殺 Su-自, (i)cide-殺 Self killing Latin
Downtown 下町 down-下, town-町 down town English
Lightyear 光年 light-光, year-年 light year English
Mainstream 本流 main-本, stream-流 main stream English
Outside 外側 outside-外, side-側 outside side English

You can find breakdowns of English words into their morphemes (to a degree) on many dictionary entries under “origins” I’m partially to Dictionary.com’s layout personally.


I just burned suicide for anyone wondering why I have murder on the brain :sweat_smile:


Ah, I kinda read that topic title as words which come from the exactly same etymological root. Like typhoon/台風, maybe - English got it from the Greek, Japanese got it from the Chinese. Why do they sound the same? Who knows?


Ah, I see what you’re saying. I think that would make an exceptionally short list. I went ahead and deleted “origin” from the title to prevent confusion. I think I’ll add “roots.” Would that be clearer? I think I was stuck on “origins” because of the way word histories are written in dictionary entries.

That’s certainly really cool though, I didn’t know that was the origin of typhoon in English. :slight_smile:


Downtown, lightyear, moonlight, all combined direction words lol, sunlight, triangle- words from the first 5 levels to add when I don’t have a meeting lol


My favourites have always been some of the most simple; the days of the week.

It’s amazing how many different languages follow the same pattern of naming the days after celestial objects:


Not 100% related but I like to find out proper names sometimes speak to the same human experience and naming reflexes people have everywhere

like 長嶋/長島 is Long Island


I love the way that just as Japan has a link between 土曜日 and 土星, so too does English have a link between Saturday and Saturn.


Isn’t that simply how languages work? Is there any language where the word left-handed is not related to the words left and hand?

Of course there’s also the fact that in the Edo and Meiji period, science, biology, politics terms and many others were translated directly from European/American sources.


But isn’t that simply because they adopted exactly the same concept, that links planets to weekdays? It’s not like they all miraculously had the same idea individually. :v:


Tuesday through Friday in English are all named after Norse gods, though, while the planets are Roman.


Yeah, it seems we here up north took the roman system and just reskinned it with our own gods.

It’s interesting how in French the correlation with Japanese is still there.
Tuesday = mardi / 火曜日. 火星 is Mars
Wednesday = mercredi / 水曜日. 水星 is Mercury.
Friday = vendredi / 金曜日. 金星 is Venus.

Thursday (木曜日 in Japanese) seems to be the odd one out being jeudi which lacks obvious connection to Jupiter / 木星 (EDIT: Obvious to others, apparently, just not to me :slight_smile: )


Yes, I know. But still the Germanic peoples adopted the Roman system and simply substituted the Roman gods, Saturn being an exception. I guess there is no need for arguing here, I was just curious if you maybe thought that the similarities were coincidental.


reject your gods


I absolutely love the days of the week! It blows my mind how similar god choices even across pantheons occur. Like Thursday comes from Thor, god of thunder, while Juedi (French) comes from Jupiter, also god of thunder. Wild :star_struck:


Nope, it varies from language to language :slight_smile: For example, in some languages, left-handed and right-handed would literally be east handed and west handed. I’m sure there are many more I haven’t heard of as well.

I didn’t know that bit of history! That will probably make finding more words easier later.


I feel like I’ve been ninja’d lol

The spelling of Jupiter’s name in Latin alone is pretty fluid with the different ways of calling him (Jove comes to mind quickly) and all the noun declension variations.


I think it’s amusing how at least in Swedish we’ve named it lördag, which comes from lögardag, being an archaic way of saying “washing (oneself) day” :slight_smile:

Seems the ancient Swedes needed a dedicated weekday for washing themselves (lest they just never wash themselves at all?)


I appreciate that there were major gods within both pantheons that corresponded fairly well to each other. If you compare the more popular Japanese gods or the Mayan gods with the majors of Roman and Norse mythology, their purpose/themes don’t seem to match as well. Maybe we can just chalk it up to them being European, but I still think it’s neat :slight_smile:

Preparing a large bathtub for the whole family, heating the water etc. was probably something that required planning. So having a standard day for that sounds nice.