"Up" in Japanese and Chinese

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Tong Wang told me that she just learned a new word.  It's "up主“, a term borrowed from Japanese into Chinese, and refers to those who upload audio, video, or other resources to share on certain websites.

In this expression, zhǔ / nushi 主 means "master; lord; host; owner", etc. (it has many other meanings in other realms of discourse, e.g., "Allah; Lord; advocate; main; primary; principal", etc.)

In Japanese, it appears as うp主 (rōmaji upunushi, hiragana うぷぬし, IPA [ɯ̟ᵝpɯ̟ᵝnɯ̟ᵝɕi]).

It's a compound of up (a clipping of English upload; the unconventional spelling is a result of directly typing "up" into a Japanese IME) and (nushi) (source).

From Japanese, うp主 passed into Chinese as up主 (àpu-zhǔ), 阿婆主 (āpózhǔ).  There's a whole Wikipedia article on Chinese "up主" here.

Another example of creeping Romanization and ever increasing digraphia in East Asia.




  1. JB said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 4:57 pm


    This strikes me as also somehow being a pun on 樓主 – the person responsible for starting a thread on a bulletin board.

  2. Jim Breen said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 5:16 pm

    A related Japanese term is うp乙 (upuotsu), which means "thanks for uploading". Here the 乙/otsu is a pun on the formal お疲れ様/otsukaresama expression of thanks.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

    @Jim Breen

    Amazing! Thanks so much for sharing that.

  4. Alyssa Trevelyan said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 5:49 pm

    The pronunciation in Japanese is interesting. As far as I'm aware "up" as a loanword is generally pronounced アップ (appu). Is the "upu" reading a pun, taking the mistaken spelling "うp" and pronouncing it as written?

  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

    Haewon Cho told me that Korean does not have an exact equivalent of うp主 and up主 in Japanese and Chinese, but it does have 업로더, uploader, for which she provided the following Romanizations:

    ① eomnodeo (Revised Romanization)

    ② ŏmnodŏ (M-R Romanization)

    Likewise, Korean also has 헤비 업로더, heavy uploader:

    ① hebieomnodeo (Revised Romanization)

    ② hebiŏmnodŏ (M-R Romanization)

    On my own (Google Translate), I found this transliteration:

    So I became a bit confused, because there seemed to be a rather noticeable discrepancy between eomnodeo and ŏmnodŏ on the one hand (I could easily see how they represent the same Korean sounds, and that they are both conceivably meant to transliterate English "upload". Eoblodeo, on the other hand, seems closer to the English, but further from the other two transcriptions.

    I asked several friends if all three forms were all meant to represent the same Korean sounds and the same English word. Here are a couple of responses.

    Bill Hannas:


    Sure, they are all equivalent. The "mn" in the first two examples reflects an obligatory sound change when p/b and r/l are adjacent in speech.


    Krista Ryu:


    Yes they are. The last one is I think technically incorrect based on the phonetic rules and the “b” ending consonant for the Korean transliteration is supposed to be pronounced closer to an m because of the r following it. But if you just follow the Korean spelling without considering this phonetic rule, it would be written as the third one but pronounced closer to the first and second ones.


    Everybody got that?!

  6. Jim Breen said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 6:55 pm

    The うp is more a visual pun than a mistake, and it's pronounced うぷ (upu). You even see うp主 occasionally written out in katakana: ウプヌシ.

  7. AG said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 8:34 pm

    Off the main topic, but I've been thinking about "up" as used in Japanese but at the end of terms (the opposite of the "upload"-derived setup involved in this post).

    I've been wondering about the extent to which Japanese video game terms have in turn influenced English, via phrases like "1-up", "power-up", "level-up", etc. I'd guess that "level-up" in particular is so common in English now that I doubt anyone thinks of it as Japanese.

    This list mentions several other "-up"s that didn't make the trip back across the Pacific, including "weight-up" and "manner-up".


  8. Carl said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 9:14 pm

    In Japanese, “load” and “lord” are homophones, as are “up” and “app”.

  9. Tim Martin said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 7:38 am

    @AG: Wow, I never considered that the likes of "power-up" etc. might be loanwords from Japanese. They always seemed natural enough as English – plus, I grew up with these words. Thanks for mentioning.

  10. unekdoud said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 7:39 am

    What I find interesting about "level up" and similar compounds in gaming is that "up" is basically a verb in the original context."Power-up" and "1-up" eventually became nouns referring to a kind of pickup, while "level up" gets shortened in English to just "level" as a verb.

    うp in this case is also a verb, and the compound 再うp just means reupload.

  11. Guy_H said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 8:18 am

    I've seen this word (UP主/阿婆主)sporadically (on youtube comments etc) and have never quite understood what it means. "Granny Boss" really made no sense. Until now!
    Although I find it strange they are writing it as "up" if it is being pronounced up-pu/ah-po.

    Chinese internet language is such a strange world. The most random at the moment surely is the overuse of the word "freestyle" (你有freestyle嗎?).

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 8:52 am


    I wrote about "freestyle" in Chinese here:

    "Greasiness, awkwardness, slothfulness, despondency — Chinese memes of the year" (12/31/17), #2

  13. cameron said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 11:13 am

    I suspect "level up" had been used in English in a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing context for years before those home video game systems became widespread. So I doubt that one is from Japanese.

    Expressions with "up" are very common in English.

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 3:52 pm

    cameron: That was my reaction too, and "level up" sounds like natural English to me, but I can't remember whether my friends and I said "level up" back in the early '80s. Dragon Magazine and others seem to be searchable at https://annarchive.com/ (that is, I used Google to search that site), and I didn't find anything. Maybe it is from Japanese. Etymonline dates it to 2001.

  15. cameron said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 5:11 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: I distinctly remember, when I was introducing some friends to the Dragonquest game system, probably in the 81-82 school year, that one of the questions asked, by a player with D&D experience, was "how do you level up?" And I had to explain that the notion of Level in that sense didn't apply.

    The expression existed.

  16. AG said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 9:27 pm

    cameron – you certainly might be right, but is there any possibility that they could have used another phrase like "go up a level", "raise your level", "increase a level", "advance to the next level", "add a level", etc.?

    I was around role-playing games in those early days, too, and I have the feeling (anecdotal and hazily remembered of course) that "level up" didn't enter my vocabulary until maybe around the time that Final Fantasy 1 came out for the NES, so … 1987 or later.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 6:13 am

    Personally speaking, I am inclined to regard the suggestion that "X-up" expressions originated in Japanese as extraordinarily unlikely. I have no idea what "level up" means in a role-playing context, but the expression itself is well attested in the English language (according to the Google N-grams viewer) as far back as the early 1800s, with a sharp local peak at 1900 and no further rise thereafter.

  18. AG said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 8:41 am

    @ philip taylor -we're talking about a special subset of "X-up" expressions, not things like cheer up, rise up, listen up, etc, These mean something like "add one to the previous value of X". If you have expressions from 1900 with that meaning, let me know. Bob Marley exhorted us to "Lively Up Yourself", but that's not quite the same either.

  19. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 11:16 am

    cameron: Okay, I didn't get your certainty from "I suspect".

    Philip Taylor: The original meaning of "to level up" was that seen in the first OED citation: "Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves." (Some here may want to know the speaker was Samuel Johnson.) The sequence "level up" can show up at Google ngram search in many other ways, too, such as "We reached the next level. Up there…"

  20. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 6:35 pm

    From Bob Ramsey:

    Yes, the first and the third transcription (eomnodeo and eoblodeo) represent different versions of RR. The first is the version the Korean creators of this romanization intended to be a broad transcription of Korean for non-professionals and general usage. The third is a narrower phonemic transcription intended for linguistic use. (As an aside–and as you may already know–I find both to be abominations that fail both of the intended purposes.) Anyway, the second is the traditional McCune-Reischauer transcription.

    But now: Let me state up front that I did not myself know the word in question. I think I'll ask a graduate student I work with who is tech savvy if he knows the word, and then see how he actually pronounces it. But no matter what he tells me, I find the transcription curious. As you can see, the Korean in this transcription actually sounds nothing like the English original!

    Perhaps the transcription we see here is representative of a growing tendency in South Korean toward transcribing English professional words according to formulaic correspondences between Roman letters and Hangul letters instead of simply using Hangul to transcribe sounds. I mean, if that weren't the case, an epenthetic vowel would have been inserted between the

    and the to prevent their morphophonemic replacement by [mn].

  21. Victor Mair said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 4:26 am

    From Irene Do:

    Out of the three transcriptions, "eoblodeo" sounds the most similar to the English word. If I were to simply spell it out by the Korean sound, it would be the following: uhb lo deo

    The first and second one (eomnodeo, ŏmnodŏ ) do not sound like 업로더.

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