I once sort-of-followed Japanese baseball; I didn’t keep up with it on a weekly basis, but I knew who was doing well and could have named most of the teams in each league. One of my favorite team names was the Yakult Swallows (my favorite name, of course, was the Nippon Ham Fighters); there’s just something appealing about the combination of the lovely word “swallows” with the Cthulhu-like “Yakult.” Now, years later, I have learned from an Ask MetaFilter thread that the team is named for Yakult, “a yogurt-like beverage made by fermenting a mixture of skimmed milk and sugar with a special strain of the bacteria Lactobacillus casei.” And according to a Yakult FAQ, Yakult is derived from the word jahurto, meaning ‘yoghurt’ in Esperanto. How ’bout that! (The accepted word for ‘yogurt’ in Esperanto, however, is apparently jogurto.)


  1. Jogurto sounds like either a Numidian king or the capital of Indonesia.

  2. I’m surprised. I just took it for granted that Yakult /yakuruto/ was obviously from /youguruto/. And that since its signature product is a small container of yoghurt drink, the team name Swallows just a bit clever. I think one of their ads last spring went something like, ‘Don’t underestimate the power of Yakult’. It featured the very popular player-manager of the Swallows (and former players’ union rep), sort of cross-marketing both the team and the drink.
    But my favorite team name is the Ham Fighters (as I insist on segmenting it), now sitting atop the Pacific League. The name of Rakuten’s still-struggling expansion team, the Golden Eagles /goruden iguruzu/, on the other hand conjures up visions of a great Inuit polar empire that might once contended with the Golden Horde for domination of Siberia. (Unfortunately, their court records all melted each spring.)

  3. Mmmmmmm… Yakult….

  4. “Swallow” can also be a pun in Chinese (“yan”). Don’t knwo about Japanese.

  5. That Esperanto article seems to say that jahurto is an alternate pronunciation. All I know is Yakult tastes nasty.

  6. It’s correct that both “jahurto” and “jogurto” exist in Esperanto. “Jahurto” used to be the main form (in dictionaries, but perhaps not in practical usage). But nowadays “jogurto” is being favoured.

  7. Okay, forget the possibility that Swallows was a Yakult-inspired pun. Wikipedia reminds me that when I was a kid, the team was called the Kokutetsu (= JNR then, JR now) Swallows, so the name probably relates to the name of one of the fastest express trains in Japan before bullet train era, the Tsubame ‘swallow’. The other express train I remember as a kid was the Hato ‘pigeon’.

  8. I had always assumed that Yakult was some crazy northern European word and was quite surprised when I arrived in Japan and learnt the truth.

  9. We should perhaps compare LH’s earlier discussion of Canon’s etymology, ugye?

  10. Yakult ads in England feature pleasant bourgeois women talking about ‘friendly bacteria’.

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