Acetic Acid

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I wanted to write a post about the usage of multiple sets of kanji for the same word. But stumbled across intriguing etymology instead.

Sometimes there is more than one way to write a word in kanji. For example, shrimp sounds like ebi in Japanese, and can be written as 海老 or 蝦 (sometimes 鰕 or 蛯 are also used as variants). There are reasons for the variants in this case, but that’s another post. Another example is sushi, written in kanji as 寿司, 鮨, and 鮓. I was trying to find out the reasons behind each character, and found the best entry was in an etymology dictionary.

Reading the listing gave little information about why there are different kanji. There was a tidbit about 寿司 being ateji (当字), which means they just chose characters to have a “good” meaning and to match the sound. The other two characters were no explained, but the origin of the word was laid out.

Sushi is typically made by stirring vinegar into cooked rice, and then putting raw fish meat on top of small blocks of rice. Vinegar is ‘su‘ (酢) in Japanese. Mixing vinegar into rice creates sumeshi (酢飯). The vinegary flavor is sushi (酢し), and this word is listed as the origin of the word sushi.

My guesses about the kanji are: 鮓 is a combination of ‘fish’ (魚) and part of ‘vinegar’ (酢); and 鮨 is a combination of ‘fish’ and ‘fingers’ (指), fingers being used to make (and to properly eat) sushi.

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2 Responses to “Acetic Acid”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    I had no idea there was vinegar in sushi. Ya learn something every day.

  2. びっくり Says:

    Often a slightly sweet vinegar is stirred into the rice as it is cooling.

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