April 20, 2017

Peater Pan

The clever name for a chain of bakeries in Japan brings up the etymology of perhaps the oldest non-Chinese "loan word" in Japanese.

Wikipedia states that though seemingly derived from the Spanish pan or the French pain, the Japanese word for "bread" was introduced into Japan by Portuguese traders and missionaries in the mid-16th century.

The mistaken etymology is understandable, as the word is pronounced the same in Spanish and Japanese, while it takes a bit of phonetic drift to get from pão to pan.

On the other hand, the Jesuit Francis Xavier hailed from Navarre. Later known as the "Apostle of Japan," he was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. He too might have hurried along the adoption of pan.

In a very roundabout way, the word has now made it from the West to the East and back to the West as panko (パン粉), which combines pan with the kanji for flour.

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