Ultra-polite term for miso soup

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[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I just came across perhaps the strangest kanji compound in the entire 20+ years since I started learning Japanese:

御御御付 (おみおつけ omiotsuke)

Bottom line: it's miso soup.

According to Daijirin (大辞林):

味噌汁を丁寧にいう語。 〔「おみ」は味噌を丁寧にいう近世女性語からともいう〕
"A polite term for miso soup. (Said to be derived from omi, an early modern women's word for miso.)"

Digital Daijisen デジタル大辞泉 notes this orthographic variation (the pronunciation is identical):

御味御汁
《「おみ」は味噌の意の、「おつけ」は吸い物の汁の意の女性語》味噌汁をいう美化語。
"(Omi means miso; otsuke is a women's word for soup broth.) An elevated term for miso soup."

Jim Breen's WWWJDIC actually gives four possible orthographies, though the first two are functionally identical (a matter of style rather than substance, if one prefers to see things in such terms), meaning that only the fourth is a meaningful addition to those above. In short, there are three equally bizarre ways of writing omiotsuke:

御御御付け; 御御御付; 御味御付; 御味御汁

According to an article by miso and all-around Japanese food aficionado (and Hiroshima University emeritus professor) Watanabe Hiromitsu (渡邊敦光), 御御御付 is the only word in the Japanese language with three consecutive 御s — at least as recognized by the authoritative Kōjien (広辞苑).

It's also a bit silly.



19 Comments

  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 4:11 am

    御 is one of the polite / honorific / humble prefixes in Japanese. It is pronounced as go-, o-, on-, gyo-, mi-.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorific_speech_in_Japanese

    In Sinitic, this character is pronounced yù and has the following meanings:

    (prefix) imperial
    to manage, to govern (of the sovereign, by extension, to be present in)
    to ride (on an animal or a vehicle drawn by animals); referred to the imperial chariot

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%BE%A1

  2. Jim Breen said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 4:34 am

    The big Kenkyusha 新和英大辞典第5版 Japanese-English dictionary only has this term in hiragana (おみおつけ). That is indeed the most common surface form in Japanese.. The Goole n-gram counts are:
    御御御付け 1406
    御御御付 2740
    御味御付 46
    御味御汁 183
    おみおつけ 10245
    (The first two counts are cumulative, so 御御御付 alone is probably less common than 御御御付け.)

  3. NOEL HUNT said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 5:45 am

    I don't know where the idea that おみ, 'omi', means 'miso shiru' comes from because it is quite at odds with 広辞苑, kōjien (a broad collection of characters), the standard Japanese language dictionary.

    'O-tsuke' is defined as a "term used to describe soup, especially miso (soup)'. Originally a 女房詞 nyōbōkotoba, the meaning derives from the fact that it accompanies the main meal (or 'main tray' 本膳, honzen)".

    'tsukeru' means to 'affix/add to', 'tsuke' is the form which acts as a noun, and 'o' is the so-called 'honorific' prefix; hence o-tsuke means 'that well-known thing which is attached (to something)'.

    'nyōbōkotoba' refers to the argot used by women who worked in the imperial palace from the Muromachi period (1392) onwards.

    Further, 'omi' is a shortening of 'ohomi' 大御 a prefix used to express politeness or respect, hence 'omi-o-tsuke'. Certainly there is an apparent duplication of honorific prefixes but this is presumably because the 'o' of 'o-tsuke' had lost some of it's sense due to frequent use. And as pointed out, the compound prefix 'omi-o-' is written in hiragana.

    In other words, 'omi' does not mean 'miso (soup)', 'o-tsuke' does.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 6:38 am

    The statistics cited by Jim Breen tell us something significant about the overwhelming preference of moderns for phonetic over morphosyllabic / logographic writing.

  5. Chris Button said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 11:01 am

    Wow! I suppose it goes without saying that neither the reading お nor み for 御 are considered to be in common use. Yet here we have both together!

  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 11:34 am

    From Cecilia Segawa Seigle:

    Thank you, Victor and Nathan,

    おみおつけis of course a perfectly normal acceptable word for us. And as Nathan Hopson says, "a bit silly". Not "a bit" but "very very silly" when you think about it.

    This is the first time I've ever actually seen how it's written.

    御御御付け; 御御御付; 御味御付; 御味御汁

    "According to an article by miso and all-around Japanese food aficionado (and Hiroshima University emeritus professor) Watanabe Hiromitsu (渡邊敦光), 御御御付 is the only word in the Japanese language with three consecutive 御s — at least as recognized by the authoritative Kōjien (広辞苑)." (Thank you for all this information.)

    I guess, indeed, it may be the only Japanese word with three consecutive 御s in our casual conversation.

    But I can think of other examples. I know that the ladies of — for instance — the Imperial Palace, would use 御御御 in other contexts:

    =====

    御御御腰 ("waist")、御御御脚 ("foot; leg")、御御御肩 ("shoulder"), etc. in reference to the person of 天皇 ("Emperor")、皇后 ("Empress"、皇太子 ("Crown Prince")、etc.

    =====

    They may use 御御御 in other contexts we don't know about. In the upper upper class society – aristocratic class has been officially eliminated or cancelled — but some older members of the class, if anybody, are maybe hanging on to these nostalgic niceties.

    Thank you Victor and Nathan, for making me think about the unusual facts concerning the Japanese language!!

  7. Stefan said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

    御御御付, what a lot of strokes for not very much food.

    If I wanted to cut down on the number of strokes, I could use the kanji iteration mark (々), as in 時々.

    But can I use it twice 御々々付, or just once? And if only once, where does it go? Would 御々御付 or 御御々付 be the preferred place for the のま?

  8. krogerfoot said,

    January 19, 2019 @ 10:31 pm

    お and み are hardly uncommon readings of 御; it's somewhat more common to use the kanji for the ご-reading, but on signage and so forth it's not rare to see, for example, 御手洗い o-tearai "washroom, toilet."

    I'm also confused by the comments from the OP and one commenter that the word is "silly." It's an oddity to have three consecutive characters in a word, but it's apparently not usually written that way. Should everyone grow up and stop using it?

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 3:37 am

    IMO, it is no more "silly" than calling a lavatory (which is already a euphism — a place in which one washes, rather than what it actually is — a place in which one urinates / defæcates) a "restroom" or a "comfort station". Most societies seem to ?need? these polite terms, French pissoir being a notable (and pleasing) exception. Is there a language in which the act of defæcation is made explicit in the common, everyday, name for a "toilet" ? I am familiar with English "crapper" but I don't regard that as the "common, everyday" name ("toilet" fulfills that rôle), rather more an intentionally crude term used primarily for effect.

  10. Chris Button said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 6:56 am

    @ Krogerfoot

    It's just that only go-, gyo-, on- are designated as "jōyō" (common use) readings, while o-, mi- are considered outside of that.

  11. David Marjanović said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 9:13 am

    Pissoir is a urinal, not the room it's in.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 10:07 am

    David M — On this occasion, I would very respectfully disagree. I am more inclined to go along with Wikipedia :

    A pissoir or vespasienne is a structure that provides support and screening of urinals in public space. It is a French invention common in Europe that allows for urination in public without the need for a toilet building. The availability of pissoirs is likely to reduce urination onto buildings, sidewalks, or streets.

  13. mg said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 4:11 pm

    What does it mean when they say something's a "women's word"?

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 4:21 pm

    Others far more competent than I will explain far better, but briefly Japanese requires speakers to adjust their modes of speech to reflect differences in age, status and sex (amongst probably many other things). As a result, a woman will frequently use one word for a thing where a man will use another. "Sabishi" is, I seem to recall, a word meaning "sad" used only by women.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

    From https://web.uri.edu/iaics/files/08-Junko-Ueno.pdf :

    Gender differences in the Japanese language are usually marked syntactically and lexically. Particular sentence endings and word choices distinguish women's language from men's language. Previous studies have explored these "gendered" Japanese linguistic features. The linguistic differentiation of gender tends to make Japanese women's language sound softer, more polite, and less assertive. Japanese women also use honorifics more frequently than Japanese men use (Ide, 1993).

  16. Alyssa said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 5:12 pm

    Given than using kanji for honorific prefixes seems to have fallen out of favor these days, I was predicting the most common written form to be something like おみお付け. Or perhaps お御お付け. But it doesn't look like it, from what I can tell via google. I guess it was simpler to just revert the whole thing to hiragana.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

    The linguistic differentiation of gender tends to make Japanese women's language sound softer, more polite, and less assertive.

    I don't see how the causality could go in that direction. If there's one way for a man to say something and a different way for a woman to say it, then… there are two ways to say it, but neither is differentiated in terms of tone or politeness because nobody has any discretion in which way they use. It seems more likely that the women's language "sounds softer" because any given utterance using it was spoken by a woman rather than because of a difference in wording.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 8:01 pm

    I think that one cannot speak in terms of "any given utterance" because almost no matter what is said, a (Japanese) woman will use one utterance and a (Japanese) man another. And just because an utterance is spoken by a (Japanese) woman is no guarantee that it will "sound softer" — I have been on the wrong end of a diatribe from an elderly Japanese woman into whose garden I and one of my Chinese teachers had inadvertently strayed, and there was nothing "soft", "more polite" or "less assertive" about anything she had to say … I don't think I have ever uttered more consecutive "sumimasen"s and "gomennasai"s in my life !

  19. Lindsay Costelloe said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 9:09 pm

    You can't use the kanji iteration mark because it requires identical reading/sound and in this case the "mi" reading/pronunciation interpolates between two usages of "o", so you're stuck with the three kanji.

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