“Moshi Moshi” is probably something you’ve seen or heard before. In Japanese, it’s used when answering the telephone, and roughly means “hello” or “hi.” You’re not really going to see this word used off the phone too much (though there are a couple of weird exceptions, see video below), so we’re going to focus on that. Learning to use “moshi moshi” when answering the phone is the easy part (you didn’t think I’d let you go that easily, did you?). Let’s find out why Japanese say “moshi moshi” when answering their phone, that’s the bedazzler.
If you don’t want to watch the highly entertaining (and cat telemarketer including) video above, here are the explanations in writing as well:
1. Foxes Can’t Pronounce Moshi Moshi
I’m not entirely convinced by this explanation. I have heard it in a couple of different places, but it could just as easily be a nasty rumor (probably spread around by a fox). Foxes, at least in Japanese fairy tales, are sneaky little buggers. They do things like turn into beautiful women, marry you, then screw you over (detect any spite in my words? You should.). They steal stuff, they mess with important things, and in general, are pretty tricky. Apparently, one reason “Moshi Moshi” is used, is because it’s difficult to say for a fox. So, if you say it on the phone, you can confirm whether or not you’re getting tricked. This works on telemarketers as well.
2. It’s the Operator’s Fault
Another explanation, one that seems more likely (though a lot less entertaining), is one I read about over here. Until 1890 (didn’t even know phones existed back then), people would say “oi oi” (おいおい) when answering the phone. In 1890, the operators switched over to saying “Moshi Moshi.” The kanji (申し申し) means “I’m going to say” or even more literally “say say.” It is just the humble form of iimasu (言います).
Either way, In all honestly, it probably doesn’t matter why people say “Moshi Moshi” when answering the phone. Why does “hi” mean “hi”? Why does “dog” mean “dog”? Who cares? I know this guy (with two thumbs) doesn’t.
So, which one do you like best? I’m putting my vote in for Mr. Fox. All you linguist majors can vote for number two.
P.S. Here’s some more Kublai Khan Footage. Also, my J-Blogging buddy the Gakuranman tells us why you have to say “Moshi” twice when answering the phone, instead of once!