Matt of No-Sword has posted about the new Nihongogen Daijiten, the ‘Big Dictionary of Japanese Etymology.’ If I knew Japanese, I would definitely want this book, but I’m disappointed by Matt’s description:
The Nihongogen Daijiten is an attempt to solve or at least neutralise [the problem of different etymologies in different dictionaries] by bringing everyone’s ideas together in one place, from the carefully backed-up linguistic arguments to crazy stuff some drunk guy wrote down centuries ago.
So, for example, if you look up “Fuji” (as in the mountain), you can see the commonly heard explanation that it derives from the Ainu word huchi, meaning “God of Fire”, but also these other theories:
* It evolved from ho-de (火出, “fire comes out”)
* It’s a shortened version of kefuri-shigeshi (煙茂し, “smoke grows”)
* It’s a shortened version of fu-ji-na (吹息穴, “hole that breathes out”)
… and it comes down to which source you want to trust the most. (Sometimes the editors add a note weighing in on one side, or proposing an entirely different derivation, but this too is scrupulously identified as editorial comment.)
As I said in Matt’s comments, I consider it an abdication of the responsibility of an etymologist to simply present a bunch of ideas, some clearly wacko, and let the reader sort them out. If you have to give them all, present the one or two you think plausible in regular type and the rest in small type in a separate paragraph. But at least the groundwork has been laid for someone to come along and do it right.