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I was just given some mochi by a Taiwanese host in Kaohsiung.

So I decided to look up the local word and found "麻糬" máshǔ.

It's a transliteration of Japanese "mochi", which is written 餅 in that language. Not using either character in the Chinese version.

麻 is pretty common in transliterations but 糬 seems to be unique. I can't find any information on any other use it may have, or where it came from.

What is its origin?

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Japanese is known to coin its own unique kanji: https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/kokuji/

働 = イ (person) + 動 (move) = "work"

込 = 辶 (road) + 入 (enter) = "crowded"

鰯 = 弱 (weak) + 魚 (fish) = "sardine" 

However, 麻糬 (mochi) already had a kanji 「餅」, so we can eliminate the possibility of 糬 being an unique kanji of Japanese origin.

It is found in 汊語字典,新華字典 and 說文解字 without any definition; 康熙字典 doesn't even has this entry,so we can eliminate the possibility of 糬 being an archaic Chinese character, and must be a recent creation.

「糬」 is clearly a 形聲字 with 「米」being the substantial component and「署」being the phonic component, Consider the historical tie between Japan and Taiwan, 糬 is most likely a Taiwanese coined character.

Imagine the period when Taiwan was under Japanese rule, and the locals saw mochi for the first time. We can presume not everyone on the island knew Japanese, therefore people had to borrow phonetically similar Chinese characters to describe it in writing, and decided 麻 and 署 were the two characters sounded like mochi the most. Since it is a food product made of rice, the 米 radical was added to 署 soon after, and that's how the term 「麻糬」 was coined.

Edit: remove 丼 as an example of Japanese unique Kanji

*One more speculation on when mochi was first introduced to China: Cantonese has a similar food called 糯米糍,if Mochi was first introduced to Canton, I am sure Cantonese people of the time would had called it 東洋米糍, or 米糍, since it was not made of 糯米

  • Thanks, I have replaced 丼 with a link to the source that listed unique Japanese kanji, along with an excerpt from that site – Tang Ho Sep 9 '16 at 0:14
  • Fascinating! Great job (-: – hippietrail Sep 9 '16 at 4:24
  • Hakka people make something very similar to mochi. There's also something similar for Cantonese speakers, though I can't speak to region. I'm pretty sure there's an equivalent food item in Vietnam as well. Therefore, mochi is not unique to Japanese cuisine. I will dig up sources and update in the next few days. – judester Sep 10 '16 at 1:18
  • Interesting piece of supplementary evidence: 糍 and 薯 (for potato) have the same pronunciation in Min Nan, e.g. Taiwanese Hokkien (chî = /t͡ɕi²⁴/). – Michaelyus Dec 10 '18 at 13:20
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署 = has something orderly on top 罒网 (a net) + Pictograph 者 burning tree from which ink soot is collected) and mouth-speaking-yue 曰 (- ink is used to write what is said)

署 originally it meant "officials" maybe because all they did was to write down in ordely fashion or weaving Zi as a net. To arrange letters on the paper, etc.

In 糬 - I GUESS it means "arranged rice"

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