Knife and fork

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Nathan Hopson came across a marvelous Japanese word from the interwar period the other day:  naihoku ナイホク.

Nathan first saw naihoku ナイホク, a portmanteau (or just contraction?) of "knife and fork" (naifu [to] fōku ナイフ[と]フォーク) on p. 10, l. 7 of a delightful 1929 guide to the famous eateries of Tokyo (Tōkyō meibutsu tabe aru ki 東京名物食べある記):

Daibu konde kitanode gururi to mimawasu to, Ichōgaeshi, Shimada nado nado / tō tō, ikina konshun watari no nēsan-tachi ga gokumi, rokkumi, nareta tetsuki de naihoku o tsukatte iru no wa hoka ni mirarenai zu de aru.


Roughly: "It had gotten pretty crowded. When I looked around, there was the unique sight of five or six groups of fashionable young women [in kimonos? and with their hair formally done up] using knives and forks with a practiced hand."

"Naihoku ナイホク" seems to be older, though, appearing in #5 of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's (1892-1927) brief series of urban vignettes, Tokai de — Aruiwa sen kyū hyaku roku nen no Tōkyō — 都会で — 或は千九百十六年の東京 — (In the city — Or, Tokyo in the year 1916).  Interestingly, it is both glossed with a note (that takes up a full line of the two-line section!), and is already being used as a kind of workplace slang to mean something more than simply "knives and forks":

Aru jokyū no kotoba.―― Iyada wa. Kon'ya wa naihoku nandesu mono. Chū: Naihoku wa naifu dano fōku dano o arau ban ni ataru koto de aru.


The words of a waitress: "Yuck. It's naihoku tonight."
Note: "Naihoku" refers to it being her turn to wash the knives and forks.

The term "naihoku ナイホク" is not in any of the reference materials at "Japan Knowledge," even with a full-text search. That's a list that includes:

Dejitaru Daijisen デジタル大辞泉 (Digital Daijisen)
Dejitaru Daijisen purasu デジタル大辞泉プラス (Digital Daijisen plus)
Nihon kokugo daijiten 日本国語大辞典 (Dictionary of the Japanese National Language)
Nihon dai hyakkazensho 日本大百科全書 (Encyclopedia Nipponica)

And a Google search gets only about 14 hits. A few are for Akutakagawa's story and the rest are irrelevant (internet handle names, etc.).  Bing and Yahoo! are similarly at a loss.

So far as I know, we don't have something analogous to "naihokuナイホク" in Chinese.  Perhaps the closest we get is dāochā 刀叉 ("knife [and] fork"), but that's pure Chinese for these Western implements.

It's curious that just a few days ago, in reference to David Moser forgetting how to write the right side of chú 厨 ("kitchen"), someone suggested drawing in a knife or fork instead of the misremembered 寸.  See "Pinyin in the kitchen" (10/16/16).

[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle and Miki Morita]


  1. cameron said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 10:35 am

    Is there a more current Japanese expression used in place of this now-obsolete term?

  2. leoboiko said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 10:37 am

    a portmanteau (or just contraction?)

    Recently I've stumbled upon Hashimoto et al. proposal¹ of kanji spellings for gairaigo (modern loanwords), to help with their notoriously difficult interpretation (and disagreeable layout on the page, in the case of longer expressions). The idea expands on something I've noted here earlier; that the practice of using English glosses for kanji—頁(ページ) “page”, 超(スーパー) “super”, 兄(ブラザー) “brother”—or, rather, kanji morphograms for English, because in such cases the kanji work more like a "gloss" than the kana—is nothing less than the continuation of the kanbun kundoku method which established kun readings (native Japanese readings) in the first place. The authors suggest we standardize morphograms for English morphemes, suitably contracted to create a regular reading rhythm:

    – “High-tech” = hai-teku = 高技(ハイテク)
    – “High collar, turtleneck” = hai-kara = 高襟(ハイカラ)
    – “Personal computer” > paso-kon = 個算(パソコン)
    – “Supermarket” = supa-make = 超市(スパマケ)
    – “MIssprint” = misu-piru = 誤印(ミスピル)

    (Where the parenthesis represent furigana/rubi glosses, which I can't typeset in comments). They call this proposal 昭訓 Shōkun “contemporary kun [readings]”. I find the idea very æsthetically pleasing, and it certainly would help people with katakana difficulties. But language change by design is extremely hard, and in particular I don't think their abbreviations would ever replace currently widespread words, however elegant (like スーパー sūpā, with long vowels, for “supermarket”). Even then, I predict that kanji "reverse glosses" like those will continue to be used informally, and that a few English words will end up listed as dictionary readings for kanji (like “page” already achieve, and “super” seems to be in the process of achieving (a, b, c)).

    [1] Hashimoto, M.; Suzuki, T.; Yamada, H. Kanji Minzoku no Ketsudan: Kanji no mirai ni mukete. 1987.

  3. leoboiko said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 10:38 am

    (Naihoku would be a perfect Shōkun reading for (刀叉(ナイホク).)

  4. leoboiko said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 10:47 am

    @cameron The example sentences I could find in Kenkyūsha's English-Japanese dictionary and in just use the long-ass unabbreviated naifu to fōku ナイフとフォーク。 But! I spotted a few Naifōku ナイフォーク live on Twitter (1, 2, 3, 4). It still seems marginal; Google gives some 112 hits, and none in Books.

  5. leoboiko said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 10:54 am

    Appropriately, I've made a misprint in misupuri, typing it as misupiru (something something vowel harmony). And in "misprint". It wasn't intentional!

  6. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 11:14 am

    In Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) Noam Chomsky suggests an example of a potential semantic universal: a constraint on word meanings that says a noun that refers to a concrete kind of object must denote something that is spatiotemporally contiguous. There can be a noun denoting an individual body part like head or leg, but never a noun that denotes something like the head and the tail of an animal, considered as a single entity that excludes the body and legs. Counterexamples have been pointed out (perhaps the best is James McCawley's: bikini). It looks like naihoku is another one.

  7. Jim Breen said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 6:57 pm

    I'm not surprised ナイホク didn't make it into the 国語辞典. Lexicographers have to apply frequency and currency thresholds and ナイホク would be well under the radar on both. I like the term "ナイホク" so I am submitting it to the JMdict (aka EDICT) dictionary, which is used by sites such as wwwjdic and, and apps such as Imawa and Aedict, so provided another editor accepts my case for its inclusion, it may get a little more exposure.

    I checked ナイホク and related terms and combinations in the 2007 Google Japanese n-grams and the smaller 2004 Kyoto/Melbourne n-grams. The former has a frequency cut-off of 20. The counts were (Google, KM):

    ナイホク lt 20, 2

    ナイフォーク 28, 0

    ナイフとフォーク 47959, 1689

    ナイフフォーク 2478, 243

    Clearly this is an area where the usual Japanese passion for ellipsis has not had a big impact.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

    The Chomsky claim seems dubious, but as applied to English I'm assuming it is in practice taken to be limited to count nouns, otherwise mass-noun counterexamples would be easy to generate without the cleverness of "bikini" (although even then I guess you can claim that a bikini is a set of two concrete objects not a single one, so you've moved your claim about contiguousness back into the definition of "object," thus making the original statement tautologically true). In this specific context it sounds like an English mass noun like "cutlery" or "silverware" might be a reasonable translation of naihoku in the examples given. Of course, the claim has been made that the count/mass noun distinction doesn't really make sense as applied to certain non-IE languages, including Japanese.

  9. krogerfoot said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    "In this specific context it sounds like an English mass noun like 'cutlery' or 'silverware' might be a reasonable translation of naihoku in the examples given."

    I was thinking the same thing, with the added nuance of "utensils for eating foreign food." Both quotes from the OP express degrees of negativity toward the concept, with the trendy young sophisticates using knives and forks "with a practiced hand" and the waitress's annoyance at having to wash them (as opposed to throwing away disposable chopsticks? I wonder if waribashi were already in wide use at that time).

  10. Greg Malivuk said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 7:46 am

    Even if they weren't, reusable chopsticks are also easier to wash than knives and forks.

  11. leoboiko said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 8:04 am

    Seems like sugi cedar waribashi became common by the end of the Edo period 1, 2), apparently as a way of making use of wood waste / mill ends (3). Disposability wouldn't surprise me, given how tea ceremony used to treat expensive bamboo utensils as disposable for reasons of hygiene (or, equivalently, and if I may put my orientalist hat on, Shinto-influenced ideals of purity/freshness/renewal).

  12. V said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 8:31 am

    I'm surprised nobody has pointed out the delightful respelling of 食べ歩き tabe aruki "eat-walking", meaning to stroll around trying the food at various restaurants, as 食べある記 with /ki/ as 記 "account, record", creating a secondary pun-y meaning like "diary of my food experiences". It's a really great example of how the Japanese writing system can be used creatively: the title has the semantics of both the sound /tabe aruki/ and the graph 記.

  13. leoboiko said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 9:20 pm

    @V I am literally writing a dissertation about things just like that (final month now!) & somehow I just glossed right over that kanji play! Thank you for drawing attention to it; one more example added to the text =)

  14. NickM said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 10:10 am

    食べログ (tabelogu) the name of a rankings site for eating-places, is another example of wonderfully inventive punning.

    Not only does it sound like (and mean something similar to) "travelogue", it also sounds similar to (and means exactly) the Japanese for "food blog".

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