19 September 2010

The Etymology of Genki

I've been using Google Anal-ytics to keep a bit track of who comes to this site and why, and I noticed people that come here via Google searches are coming here for completely unrelated reasons. This is unfortunate.

But one caught my eye, which is "etymology of genki". Genki, as my readers know, is already one of those words that foreigners in Japan use in daily conversation, but no one really knows where it comes from.

Until now.

The breakdown:

  元気 ("gen - ki")
  元 gen ("base, foundation")
  気 ki ("chi, spirit, life force")

Somewhat similar to European humorism, you could have good ki and bad ki and they would affect you physically and emotionally. This is a major spiritual and linguistic concept in Japanese, where there are well over 10,000 words which use the 気 character. Now in modern Japanese, the common word byoki (病気) means "sickness", or literally "sick ki". However, in classical Japanese, genki was spelled 減気, rooted in the word herasu (減らす-- note the kanji), which means "decrease". So, if your bad ki gets reduced, you're genki. In modern Japanese, the character's changed and it has a more positive meaning, which is "happy and healthy".

Case closed.

1 comment:

ikumi said...

i didn't know that it was 減らす気 originally... you should totally write about the etimology of kaba. :D