Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hold Your Horses!

"Oh man, look at that horse they have there in Africa, it has stripes all over it, is it sick or something?"
"No dude, it's a Zebra."
"A Ze-what?"
"Mmm...Striped Horse, for you"

Japanese: 縞馬
Reading: shima-uma
Meaning: Zebra
Kanji: "stripes" and "horse"

"Ha ha! Look at that horse in the pond! I've never seen such a fat horse! What's up with those African horses?!"
"Eeee? Hip Hop-what?"

Japanese: 河馬
Reading: kaba
Meaning: Hippopotamus
Kanji: "river" and "horse"

I was amused to find that the Kanji (Chinese Characters) meanings of Zebra and Hippopotamus in Japanese were striped horse and river horse respectively (river horse? how about sumo wrestler horse!).
There is something similar in English, namely, the sea horse. The Kanji for sea and horse form a word in Japanese as well, only that it's not the word for sea horse...

Japanese: 海馬
Reading: todo
Meaning: Sea Lion
Kanji: "sea" and "horse"

"Oh, that horse over there MUST be sick!"
"NOT A HORSE man, that's a Gira...
yeah, that's a long necked weirdly colored horse..." :P

(No. Actually, giraffes have nothing to do with horses, even in Japanese)


  1. Hippopotamus does mean river horse, "hippo" meaning horse and "potamus" meaning river in ancient Greek. Since hippos aren't native to Japan/China, they just made a direct translation. See also

  2. Cool link! I very much liked the chameleon as "change color dragon", the owl as "cat head eagle" and the "long neck deer" giraffe :)

    One thing this list reminded me is the name for a starfish (海星 - sea star ) which reading (hitode) can also be broken up to be (人手 - man hand), and the idea of a starfish being referred to as a man's hand (shape-wise) is really neat!