Fun With Vocabulary

So, I am studying my Japanese vocabulary, and I get to a phrase ikura いくら, which means “How much?”. Fine, fine, always good to know how to ask that. It also has a kanji, that looks like a bad game of pickup sticks, or maybe a medieval escutcheon, with quarterings.

A little later, I get to another phrase, ikura いくら, which means…. “Salmon eggs”.

Hmmm. I know the Japanese overload their words with multiple meanings, but this is a little much. So I go to my nihongodict and type in “salmon eggs”, and it gives me back ikura イクラ. Ah, it’s in katakana, and I had mistyped it when entering it — katakana is like italics, it is used for foreign words and emphasis. I note also that the word has no kanji associated with it, which means it really is foreign.

Now, where would the Japanese have gotten a loan word for salmon eggs? Anybody nearby who does a lot of salmon fishing? China? No, too warm. Korea? No, not enough rivers. Russia? Google translate gives me ikroĭ, икрой, which seems close enough (particularly since the u in ikura might be silent).

See the fun you can have with language?

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