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What does 相撲 (sumo) mean if literally translated into English?

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Someone told me today that 'sumo' - so  相撲, literally means 'striking one another' in English. I don't think it does. Who is correct? If I am correct, what is a better literal translation?

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Posted (edited)

Well, it's a very rough translation, but that in essence is correct. The first character means "each other" in the context of a pairing against, like a torikumi, whereas the second does mean strike in modern Japanese. Interestingly, in Chinese, that second word now means "flutter" (evoking tsuppari), which suggests that the etymology of sumo does not actually encompass yotsu-zumo, or at least began purely with oshi-zumo.

Edited by Seiyashi
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Posted (edited)

Some additional information from wikipedia ---

Etymology

The spoken word sumō goes back to the verb sumau/sumafu, meaning "compete" or "fight". The written word goes back to the expression sumai no sechi (相撲の節), which was a wrestling competition at the imperial court during the Heian period. The characters from sumai, or sumō today, mean "to strike each other". There is also an alternate spelling of 角力, which can be found in the Nihon Shoki. Here, the first character means "corner", but serves as a phonetic element as one reading of it is sumi, while the second character means "force".

Sumō is also a general term for wrestling in Japanese. For example, udezumō (腕相撲, "arm sumō") means "arm wrestling", and yubizumō (指相撲, "finger sumō") means "finger wrestling". The professional sumo observed by the Japan Sumo Association is called ōzumō (大相撲), or "grand sumo".

Edited by sumojoann

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11 hours ago, Seiyashi said:

...which suggests that the etymology of sumo does not actually encompass yotsu-zumo, or at least began purely with oshi-zumo.

As John Gunning once told me, yotsu only happens when something went wrong.

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Posted (edited)

The one comment I have on @sumojoann's excellent contribution is that it perhaps illustrates that the relationship between kanji characters, sound, and meaning was a lot more fluid in Old Japanese than it is today. The main problem is that the Japanese basically borrowed a writing system to suit their own spoken language, where the characters of that writing system weren't phonographs (like with our Latin alphabet) but ideographs instead, where each character carries a meaning of its own as well. So now you have a mismatch where you could use characters that meant the right thing but didn't sound right, or characters that sounded right but didn't mean anything (the latter phenomenon is ateji, as with the "corner force" set of characters). 

In modern Chinese, the characters for sumo are pronounced as xiang1 pu1, which are a bit removed from the normal Japanese conversions of Old Chinese pronunciation (e.g. "north" bei3 -> hoku, "shop" dian4 -> ten), which makes me suspect that something along the lines of shoving in characters that meant the right thing and overwriting their pronunciation was what happened in the case of the characters for sumo. Not that I'm complaining about this phenomenon, because at least in the world of manga and anime it leads to some wonderfully layered meanings and linguistic encodings that as far as I'm aware are not possible with any other major language.

Edited by Seiyashi
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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, sumojoann said:

Sumō is also a general term for wrestling in Japanese. For example, udezumō (腕相撲, "arm sumō") means "arm wrestling", and yubizumō (指相撲, "finger sumō") means "finger wrestling". The professional sumo observed by the Japan Sumo Association is called ōzumō (大相撲), or "grand sumo".

And also a very general type of wrestling - any kind of competition may be called sth-sumo

And if it's for size, even ozumo

On 01/10/2018 at 17:40, Akinomaki said:

The 4th giant pumpkin ozumo tournament was held on Sep. 23rd in Sodegaura, Chiba - more than 40 competing vegetables.

Yokozuna 115kg, ozeki 110kg ... maegashira 83kg http://www.city.sodegaura.lg.jp/soshiki/nourin/dodekakabocha.html

There are banzuke for all types of things that can be ranked, and the competition that decides the ranking can be called a form of sumo

Edited by Akinomaki
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9 minutes ago, Akinomaki said:

And also a very general type of wrestling - any kind of competition may be called sth-sumo

And if it's for size, even ozumo

That's a hilarious thread!  I especially liked the comments about the cat sumo bout (loved the photo of the 2 cats), specifically the comment by Churaumi, "Hope they pack the dohyo hard...loose sand might cause unfortunate confusion..."  As if the cats might think the dohyo was a littler box if the sand wasn't packed hard enough. LOL

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Cats do a lot of sumo. Mostly tsuppari. And the main winning technique is okuridashi.

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Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, Naganoyama said:

Cats do a lot of sumo. Mostly tsuppari. And the main winning technique is okuridashi.

Yes, that's right!  And sometimes tsuppawi.  And the lesser known winning kimarite okatidashi.

In Akinomaki's thread (see above), Yamanashi says the winning kimarite is often katenage.  And Churaumi asked where the meowbidashi was.

Edited by sumojoann

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All of this reminds me of this classic snippet from Youtube!

Why sumo is better than karate.

 

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On 05/07/2022 at 14:44, Jakusotsu said:

As John Gunning once told me, yotsu only happens when something went wrong.

That's hilarious.

It's something he's obviously repeated because it's the first thing that sprung to mind here too when reading Seiyashi's post. (Laughing...)

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