Posted in Japanese as a Second Language, Japanese Culture, Japanese Language, linguistics

Emoji Etymology

I encountered a delicious etymological treat this week. Emojis! 😋I did not know that “emoji” is a Japanese word. I thought it was the internet’s way of taking the word “emotion” and shortening it or combining it with something, as the internet loves to do. It was a light bulb moment. 💡 Ah, ha! This is why there are so many Japanese kanji and Japanese cultural items in the emoji library!

Let’s break down the word in Japanese.

Emoji, pronounced with a short e sounds (/ɛ/ [e as in egg 🥚]), is made up of three kanji: 絵文字. えもじ The word is more recognizably Japanese with this “e” ‘s pronunciation as it sheds the English’s long e sound (/ɪ/ [e as in emotion ❤️]) connotation. 

The first character , literally means a picture, drawing, painting, sketch, etc. I see this kanji in book stores advertising picture books for kids “絵本えほん .”

The middle character () means sentence, composition, text, writings, etc. It’s the character you see on the Google Translate app icon.  

The last kanji: ( ) means symbol, character, (i.e. kanji) hand-writing, penmanship. ✍️ It’s the “ji” in kanji.

and together become a compound kanji and means the English equivalent of “letter” (as in the letter of the alphabet) or character. Thus, capital letters in Japanese are called 大文字 おおもじ , literally “big letter,” and lowercase is 小文字 しょうもじ , you guessed it, “small letter.”

Therefore, + the compound kanji 文字 もじ = 絵文字 えもじ = picture letter = 🖼️🔤.

I adore self-explanatory words. Kanji can do this, not always, but often. Kanji allows for one to get the feeling of the world through the visual representation, even if one does not know the denotation. I can usually guess at the meaning of words without knowing how to pronounce them. English is the opposite, where one may be able to guess at the pronunciation, but not necessarily the meaning of a word. 

Kanji’s visual reliance on meaning contributes to my belief in why 習字 しゅうじ (There is that “ji” again.) i.e. calligraphy is still taught widely in Japan and is even a profession when penmanship has mostly died out in American schools. Though I know that the advent of computer keyboarding also played a vital roll in penmanship’s demise. ⌨️

If you are interested in seeing a professional calligraphist at work, check out Kayo-sensei @Kayo_Japanese_Lesson on Instagram. Her work and teaching style is exquisite.

Kanji’s powerful visual impact is another reason why I believe Japanese people are skilled at “reading the air” because they have to read the air sometimes even when they read words. Ex: 四字熟語 よじじゅくご (four-character idioms.) Americans are more verbally direct, and like meaning to be in “black and white,” i.e. ink on the paper. That idiom does much cultural talking. 

What I also find intriguing is that the Japanese language has now come full circle. ♻️ Kanji started as pictures, morphed into ideograms, and eventually was combined in Japan with a syllabary that held phonetic value, and now technology is taking people back to the origin of writing roots.   

Until recently, I never like using emojis as I thought them cheesy. 🧀 However, when I started my Instagram, I found them useful as a visual cue with a semantic tie-in to signify the switch between my writing in English and my Japanese translation. Example: I love nature! 🌱 自然 しぜん 大好だいすきです! 

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” and emojis help achieve this and aid in lending tone to compositions. 🖋️ Maybe emojis aren’t cheesy. Maybe they are the most intuitively human way of writing. 🤔

What is your favorite emoji? Why? Or write an idiom in emojis, and let’s see if I can guess which one you mean.

Works Cited

“Emoji.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 June 2020,

Posted in Japanese as a Second Language, Japanese Language, linguistics

Misheard Words

Have you ever learned a word incorrectly because you misheard it? You won’t know at the time, of course. Such a realization comes afterward when you bump up against others using the word, and your lexical paradigm doesn’t match your interlocutor’s. 

You see, our brains are meaning-making machines and will try to make meaning make sense even when it does not, and will fill in words it thinks it hears. The school game telephone (also known as Chinese whispers) exploits this property linguistically known as a mondegreen, which got its name through Sylvia Wright’s famous mishearing of the poetic line “layd him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen.” 

Mondegreen is a mondegreen!

Well, I recently had a charming mondegreen experience with a gentleman on the internet. It is apparent that he had been using the word “wheel barrel” in lieu of wheelbarrow for some time and was corrected. Seemingly with the same refusal of Sylvia Wright to accept the real term (she preferred her misheard version of the poem as it added tragic romance), he turned to Facebook for solidarity. 

Through our exchange, I informed him that he had experienced a mondegreen, and as the Facebook group I was in was about gardening, I asserted that he must have a “mondegreen thumb.”

I am proud of that pun. (I suppose I have the linguistical humor of a man as both in Japanese puns are known as 親父 おやじ ギャグ[old man jokes] and in English “dad jokes.” Pulling off lexical ambiguity is just so snicker worthy!)

Mistaking wheel barrel for wheelbarrow is a perfect example of a mondegreen as it is a near homophone and a barrel on wheels is a logical description of the item. The mind would accept this easily. Yet, in truth, it is a wheelbarrow, and if one digs a little etymologically, it too makes sense. Barrow comes from the Proto-Indo-European word “bher” which means “to carry.” It is also the root of the term to “bear” children. 

Mondegreens are found in all languages and make for useful language learning tools, i.e. mnemonics. For example, when learning English, Japanese students are taught to remember “my name is….” as マヨネーズ(mayonnaise.) Likewise, English speakers learning Japanese are taught to remember “Don’t mention it/you’re welcome” as “Don’t touch my mustache.” (どいとしまして。)

Growing up, my mother would summon us to the table for diner with a “EAT YOUR DUCKY MOSS!” for いただきます. (A phrase of gratitude said before eating. The approximate translation being: I am grateful for what I am about to receive.)

What is a misheard word that you have experienced? How did you figure out it was mondegreen? What are mondegreens that have helped you learn something? 

Works Cited

“Mondegreen.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 May 2020,

“Barrow (N.1).” Index,

Posted in English as a Second Language, Japanese Language, linguistics

How many languages do you speak?

Being able to speak a language is subjective. I have many Japanese friends who speak beautiful English, but do not consider themselves to be English speakers. (This could just be Japanese humility though and not their true opinion: 本音 ほんねん vs. 建前. たてまえ

For example, I took a year of Latin and remember the basic sentence structure and vocabulary words. I do not, however, consider myself a Latin speaker. The same holds true for the other languages I have studied: Old English, Middle English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Japanese Sign Language. 

On the other hand, I have studied the Japanese language for years and still have many limitations, but have a proficiency level enough to work, live, and get in and out of trouble in the language. I use Japanese daily, occasionally dream in it, and while I still have much to learn, I do consider myself a Japanese speaker.

What about you? How many languages do you speak? 

They are not languages, but I am fluent in Pig Latin and Gibberish, like native speaker level.

Posted in English Language Arts, linguistics

Double Meaning Wacks & Smacks

“How did you hurt your face?” Asked my concerned coworker.

“I hit my car,” was my matter-of-fact reply. Their looks of consternation made me realize that I had hit upon lexical ambiguity as well.

You see, lexical ambiguity is the linguistic property of a sentence containing more than one meaning. Puns are, arguably, the most well known form of lexical ambiguity.

In this case, “I hit my car” could mean: I was driving, and my car was hit by something in which the accident cause my wound. In the same manner, English speakers say, “I cut my hair.” When, in actuality, they were the recipient of the action.


I was driving, and I hit something with my car in which the accident caused my wound.


As I had intended to mean: I hit my own parked car with my own face.

Allow me to extrapolate: I accidentally hit the edge of my open car trunk door with my face at five am while trying to load the pineapple plants.

The McDonald’s House has a chocolate stoop that sits two steps higher at the top of my car’s inclined parking spot. This means that when the trunk is open, it is perfectly head height, as I found out. Therefore when one is rushing to load pineapple plants before having to depart for work, one is apt to meet a rude awakening. (Pun, oh so very, intended.)

The collision hurt, I cried, and my husband wiped up my tears, blood, and embarrassment.

Yet, the pineapple made it into the school’s community garden, and I collided into this fabulous example of lexical ambiguity as well. (Did you catch the other pun in there too?)

What are some examples of lexical ambiguity you have encountered? Or leave me a pun pertaining to pineapples, because that would be sweet!

The pineapples are regrown from the tops of the fruit I purchased at the market. I love kitchen scrap gardening.
Posted in English Language Arts, Japanese Language, linguistics

Sounds Beautiful

Language, though shared by a group of people, is also unique to each individual. A word’s sound may have a personal feeling to someone different from the shared speaker’s connotation and or denotation.

(Metacognition Flash: Isn’t it interesting that humans have feelings about the words that we use to express feeling?!)

Linguists and poets have noticed this subjective association of pleasantness, or lack thereof, surrounding a word regardless of its meaning, and this has lead to a subbranch of linguistics called phonaesthetics.

(phone= Greek for sound and aesthetics= Greek for beauty) Phonaethetics is divided into euphony and cacophony, with euphony referring to words that sound beautiful and cacophony ruling over the ugly.

The famous example “cellar door” is supposedly the most beautiful English word in terms of euphony. I, personally, am not a fan.

I like the words serendipitous, thrive, and diarrhea (Discusting meaning, I know, but what a pretty word!) in English. 

In terms of cacophony, I do not like the word orchid. It sounds crass, akin to ogre or orcs. (Plus I think the flower itself looks pornographic, but that’s a different topic. Scientifically though, flowers are the sex organs of the plant. The more you know…) 

This has nothing to do with the word’s actual English connotation or denotation of orchid: the flower that most consider to be beautiful and symbolizes luxury in both Japan and the West. It is just how I feel about that particular word’s sound.

 (I looked up the etymology of the word orchid to see if it was related to ogre or orcs and while ogre and orc are related to each other, orchid is not. Um…apparently I’m not the only one who thought orchids looked pornographic. This blog post is turning out so much differently than planned. On the bright side, I am feeling such solidarity with my Indo-European ancestors!)

My three-year-old is currently enjoying the euphony of ぴかぴか (pika-pika). The Japanese onomatopoeia word for sparkle, glimmer, shine, twinkle. (I’ts the same pika in Pikachu.) My son went about all afternoon chanting it until, at least for me, it lost all its euphony and took on cacophony.

What are words that you contain euphony and cacophony for you?

Sounds have beauty, just as the shapes of lettersdo.

Works Cited

“Meaning & Symbolism of the Orchid.” Teleflora,

“Phonaesthetics.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Mar. 2020,

“Orchid: Search Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index,

(I know the above is not in perfect MLA citations. If you could teach me how to do hanging indents in WordPress, I would be obliged.)