Why do the Japanese call a mummy “miira”?

I’d been wondering this for a while because many guides to foreign borrowings into Japanese list “miira” as coming from Portuguese, but the Portuguese for (Egyptian etc) mummy is “mumia”, seemingly unconnected to “miira”. According to a typically fascinating post on the great Language Log blog, the totally unexpected answer is:

“The Japanese word for “mummy” is mīra ミイラ (“myrrh”) because, when the Portuguese were selling Egyptian mummies to the Japanese as medicine, they often mentioned myrrh as one of the preservatives, and the Japanese took the part for the whole.”

However, as a couple of commenters noticed, that just leads to another even more fascinating question:

“Can you direct me to an article about how (and why) the Portuguese sold mummies to the Japanese?”

How does a French e end up as a Japanese u?

I can just about understand how the French definite article “le” ends up as “ru” in Japanese, as it is probably closer to the pronunciation than a Japanese “re” would be in that case, but there is no way that the first syllable of Renoir in French sounds like “ru”, to give one of many examples.

Japlish ekisupaato

I kind of am a waseieigo expert, though I say so myself. Actually, maybe otaku is a more suitable word for my obsession, and as to the rest of the Japanese language, that’s another matter…

Anyhoo, you can digest most of my hundreds of hours of collecting Japanese English in just a few minutes by reading one or two of my recent articles etc on the matter:

How Japanese English Works (an overview)

Made in Japan English words and expressions

How the Japanese chop up English

Pronunciation changes in Japanese English

There’s also my A to Z, linked to from one of the posts below and now finally up to Z

Wasei eigo dictionary Part Five

Just up on my TEFL blog here. Links to the other four bits in that post. Just found a bunch of extra ones on the Wikipedia page on Waseieigo, so will try to add them too soon.

Why does no one understand when I talk about Baskin Robbins?

This is one I’d been wondering about on and off for a while, then by chance came across the answer to.

According to Confucius Lives Next Door,the company chose to call itself “31” in Japan as that is easier to pronounce, although as in Japanese it is written as サーティワン (saati wan) they were at best half successful. Like most written English, the words Baskin Robbins, which although not the official name are plastered all over the stores, are totally ignored

Why does “bidet” on a “washlette” wash a lady’s bits rather than your rear end?

I’m guessing it’s simply because there are no suitable ways of saying “down there”, whereas お尻( “oshiri”- honorable bottom) fits fine on the button to spray the backside. Any other info or idle theories anyone?

What the Japanese really mean today

As usual with my “What the Japanese really mean?” posts, the idea is that you read the Japanese and literal translation and then try to guess what they mean in English before scrolling down the page to check. Have fun (I did)!


Japanese- Wanpatan
Literal translation- Japanese pronunciation of the words “one pattern”
Meaning Read the rest of this entry »