Below is a guest post by David Morris, a teacher of English as a second language who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics. David previously contributed to Strong Language with a post about cunt face in The Sound of Music, and he writes regularly about language and teaching at his blog Never Pure and Rarely Simple.

* * *

At the time I wrote this, I was temporarily in Fukuoka, Japan, applying for a working visa for South Korea. One of my problems there was that I kept seeing strong English words in the middle of ordinary Japanese words.

For some reason ‘Fukuoka’ didn’t set off my ‘strong words’ detector, possibly because I was comparatively used to it, like Phuket, Thailand. On the side of every bus was the word ‘Nishitetsu’, which turns out to be a transport/travel/supermarket/real estate/baseball conglomerate based in Fukuoka. I just couldn’t (and can’t) not see ‘shit’ and/or ‘shite’ every time, probably because I was (and am) just not used to thinking of ‘shi’ as a distinct syllable (despite knowing sushi, Mitsubishi, Hiroshima, etc.). The Japanese syllabification is ‘Na-shi-te-tsu’ (nishi means ‘west’ and tetsu is short for tetsudō, ‘railway’).


Worse, there’s a subway station called ‘Gofukumachi’ (which, fortunately, I didn’t have to get on or off at), and that ‘fuku’ definitely set off my detector, being preceded by ‘go’ and followed by a two syllable element beginning with ‘m’.

The ‘fuku’ of ‘Fukuoka’ appears to mean ‘blessing’ (from Google Translate), but a homonym is ‘clothing’ and a Google search returned many images of Japanese teenaged girls in school uniforms.

And then there is the Momofuku restaurant chain. Wikipedia notes:

“Momofuku” could be translated from Japanese as “lucky peach” [cf ‘blessing’], though Chef David Chang has written that the name is “an indirect nod” to Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor of instant ramen. Chang also suggested it is not an accident he chose a word that sounds like the English curse word “motherfucker”.

* * *

End of David’s post. The image is my addition. I’ve a feeling I saw a post on this topic some months ago, but either my memory has failed me or I’m imagining it. Maybe it was just a tweet. In any case, when I asked about it on Twitter I got this relevant reply:

Other examples, or suggestions for what to call them (profanyms?), would be welcome.

19 thoughts on “Gofukumachi!

  1. John Kelly September 12, 2015 / 3:57 pm

    False friends > fuck buddies? OK, profanyms is much more feckful.


    • Stan Carey September 14, 2015 / 7:47 am

      It’s a pity fuck buddies is already taken.


  2. Mahmud September 12, 2015 / 4:06 pm

    It’s even funnier in Bengali. Machi is a housefly in Bengali, so this comes out as Go fuck a housefly

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stan Carey September 14, 2015 / 7:50 am

      That’s a great insult – it sounds like it should already exist.


  3. vannary September 12, 2015 / 5:23 pm

    This was a good read hahaha!


  4. astraya September 13, 2015 / 1:45 pm

    Esther Inglis-Arkell at i09.com suggests ‘sordophone’:

    ‘So far, there doesn’t seem to be a name for these words. I’d like to propose, “sordophone.” It’s like homophone – a word that’s pronounced like another word but has a different meaning – but includes a version of the Latin word “sordes,” which means “dirt, filth, or squalor.” Basically, it means “filthy sounding.”‘ (http://io9.com/help-me-coin-a-new-word-1677020108/all).

    (Why do I find the name ‘Esther Inglis-Arkell’ amusing?)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sister_Ray September 13, 2015 / 3:36 pm

    My favourite German/English sordophone is dick. Also, the name of the German philosopher never gets old though wikipedia says in English his name is pronounced /kænt/ – a wise decision I think.
    Sometimes it only becomes obvious when written like with LIEBLINGSHITS – pronounced Lieblings-Hits it sounds harmless (=favourite songs), but looks like DARLING+SHITS.


  6. Stan Carey September 14, 2015 / 7:45 am

    David, Sister Ray: Aha, I knew there was a word I’d forgotten. I like sordophone but I don’t know if it’s a better fit for the phenomenon than profanym; -phone implies a relation based on sound, which isn’t the case here. I’d be interested to hear other suggestions too; one commenter at io9 offers cocknate.

    There’s a similar rebracketing effect in unfortunate domain names such as Powergenitalia.com, Whorepresents.com and Therapistinabox.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    • astraya September 14, 2015 / 10:09 am

      Did my other comment register? I was awake at some hideous hour of the morning and suddenly thought of ‘cacophone’. I’m prepare to change that to ‘caconym’ if you like.
      Yes, I had thoughts about the difference between spellings and pronunciation, and also about domain names.


      • Stan Carey September 14, 2015 / 11:10 am

        No sign of your other comment, David – it must have got lost in the ether. Cacophone would be good if it didn’t suggest a tie to cacophony. Caconym is unfortunately already taken (M-W: ‘a taxonomic name that is objectionable for linguistic reasons’). Sordonym works too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • astraya September 14, 2015 / 11:57 am

        Yes, I just checked ‘caconym’. I like my definition more than M-W’s.


  7. roqueland September 14, 2015 / 11:30 pm

    Heh– I used to work in Gofukumachi! I’ve lived here so long the “alternate reading” never occurred to me. Though, of course, all the foreigners are familiar with the airport code for Fukuoka…


    • Stan Carey September 15, 2015 / 9:39 am

      If I worked in tourism there I would recommend that the city incorporate that exclamation mark in its promotional material.

      Liked by 1 person

    • astraya September 16, 2015 / 12:30 pm

      I took a small suitcase and backpack as cabin baggage, so didn’t get a baggage label with the airport code on it. If I had, I would have taken a photo of it and sent it to Stan.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. sesquiotic September 16, 2015 / 7:03 pm

    I remember reading one time about a very popular battery-powered vibrator that could fit on a fingertip. It was called Fukuoku. In which I readily saw “Fuk U. OK. U?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stan Carey September 17, 2015 / 8:13 am

      I would parse it similarly, but more Scorsese: “Fuk U. OK? U.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Just Daniel September 24, 2015 / 12:29 am

      I’m sitting in the quiet confines of my local library laughed so hard from your reply the librarian just gave me a dirty look. It was worth the public scorn.


  9. Ingeborg S. Nordén May 5, 2017 / 5:14 am

    “Sordonym” works OK as a technical term; I was going to suggest “copronym” (inspired by “coprolalia”) if that word isn’t in use.


    • Stan Carey May 5, 2017 / 7:41 am

      Copronym is in fact in use, as I discovered just last year. It refers to a negative name given to a baby, such as ‘Dung’, perhaps as a protective measure against evil or calamity.

      Liked by 1 person

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