Japanese vocabulary: the *real* origin of the word: 不気味 (bukimi) [updated]

By | April 1, 2021

(Note: this article was an April fool’s joke. While most of what was stated here was true, the part about “buu kimi” being the original way to write “bukimi” is a complete fabrication. By the way, April fools day jokes are also done by some people in Japan, where it is referred to as エイプリルフール)

Around this time of year I often find myself with a little extra free time to write about word origins, and this time I’d like to talk about the word 不気味 (bukimi).

On the surface, it looks like this word is a combination of 不 (bu/fu) which generally is used to refer to a “negative” or “not” meaning, plus the word 気味 (kimi), which has several meanings, including “unpleasant”. However the truth is much more disturbing.

Animal noises are often expressed differently in languages, even though the animal’s voice is the same. For example, in English we call the voice of pig “oink oink”, but in Japanese it is ブーブー (buu buu). By extension, “buu” can be used as a pretty strong insult to someone (I don’t recommend saying that to a girl).

It turns out that this relates to the real origin of the word “bukimi”. The final piece of the puzzle is knowing that “kimi” is also a casual second-person pronoun (“you”), although it is typically written as 君 when used for that meaning.

Long back “bukimi” was originally “buu kimi”, which we now know is literally “oink you”. Indeed, this interpretation is a bit cryptic, but if we think in terms of eerie or strange things being piggishly ugly, perhaps it makes some sense. So if you want to sound really emphatic (and perhaps a little old-fashioned) you can say ぶうきみ (buukimi) instead of ぶきみ (bukimi).

I wanted to give a link to a certain page in Japanese that talks more about the history of this word, but I wasn’t able to find it yet. But I plan on posting a second part to this article soon with more details, so be sure to check back later.

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3 thoughts on “Japanese vocabulary: the *real* origin of the word: 不気味 (bukimi) [updated]

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Nice catch! By the way “ぶっ倒れた” was my attempt at a dajare, but I don’t think it was very well made (:

      Reply

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