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Tabako

Tabako is one of those words that, try as it may, is unable to shake off its foreignness. The word was introduced not from English but from Portuguese many centuries ago. It is officially recognised as a naturalised Japanese word that is entitled to be written in hiragana as , not katakana as .

To a surprising extent, tabako's right to Japanese citizenship is respected in signage, such as the ubiquitous sign below (top) advertising the availability of cigarettes:


Tabako
Cigarettes

Dorinku, kasa, tabako
Drinks, umbrellas, cigarettes

But people have a tendency to regard tabako as a gairaigo (foreign borrowing), depriving it of its naturalised status by writing it in katakana as . This can be found in the following station sign and even in dictionaries.


O-tabako wa kitsuensho de o-negai-itashimasu.
Smoking in smoking areas please.

Because of its respectable lineage, tabako can also be written in Chinese characters as 'smoke grass' (pronounced in Chinese as yān cǎo). While found in some books and printed materials, it is seldom encountered in public signs. The following is an example, obviously printed out from a computer.


O-tabako wa go-enryo kudasai.
No smoking please.

 

A Google search in August 2003 reveals that tabako appears to be losing the battle to retain its Japanese citizenship:

Form
No. of occurrences
331,000
177,000
149,000
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