by

moshimoshi

“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.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Ic-eG-MwU’]

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

moshimoshiwhat

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

moshimoshi-oioi

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!

  • WOTDsctoo

    Pssshhhhh, I'm looking into linguistics, but I'm sooo for the fox explanation. XDDD

  • Mrwindupbird

    Oh my lordy lord, the James the cat part was funky fresh my friend.

    Great stuff as always, muy interesante!

  • Leah

    Can we just trade Koichi for Kublai Khan? (Nothing personal, Koichi.)

  • http://http:katamaridemocracy.com Egmont

    Maybe the operators were just trying to prove that they weren't foxes because they were tired of being hung-up on by a fox-weary public.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    haha – that was a big problem in the 1800s :) Darn Foxes

  • http://spacejay4000.livejournal.com/profile spacejay4000

    i was just talking about “moshi moshi” today with a co-worker and i was trying to figure out how to explain it to her. now i know how to do it! you save the day again, koichi! *fanfare plays* and those foxes are sneaky bastards! (though i think i might use it on telemarketers! they will not be able to trick me! ;-)

    and your cat is adorable! where did you get here? im guessing that she is not a kitten as she is 14 pounds lol.

  • veganliz

    Ahhh, your cat is obscenely cute! :) Oh yeah, I liked the video too!

  • http://www.unihacks.com zero28

    Great english accents there koichi you should try your irish one next time lol. I think the fox explanation is the best!

  • http://turning-iwatean.blogspot.com/ kanmuri

    Apparently it was used twice to make sure that the person on the other side had heard.

    Funny post :D

  • bero

    I thought “moshi moshi” means pardon me in Japanese

  • Tonio

    From how it's used, I figured the best way to describe “moshi moshi” is “Hello” when you want the attention of someone. I never thought of it in it's kanji form 申し申し, but after listening to this it kinda makes sense in this way: “Hello? Say something (are you there). When someone is in their own world in a daze, saying moshi moshi is like saying: “Hey you! Say something! Good way to think of it i guess.

  • Claytonian

    I heard that if a dead person calls you, they will only be able to say moshi once.

  • http://www.myspace.com/redbrainmatter YoyoKirby

    Well, I've learned my lesson…

  • http://erikagrace303.deviantart.com erika303

    Yeah, I'm definitely voting for the fox explanation XD

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    0_0

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    got it at the humane society – and she's 5 years old. Previous owner died, apparently 0_0…

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I'm only a master at highly accurate British accents – Irish accent mastery is next on my list :P

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    haha – that's great! It will be useful knowledge for the futuristic zombie apocalypse.

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  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    They only say it once…and then they inevitably appear directly behind you…

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    I am tempted to answer the phone with 「おいおい」now. Ha ha. It's like how Alexander Graham Bell insisted that people answer the phone with “Ahoy!” but it just never caught on. I'll be the one guy that does it the archaic way. And I bet that will throw off far more telemarketers (and foxes) than a simple もしもし. Am I right? Of course I am.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    You'll also sound Yakuza! haha. おいおい、俺様の前に跪くぶぁいい!

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    Hmmm….true. But if you stretch it out, it's the equivalent of “ahoy!” in
    English. 「おーい!おぉーい!」There are many ways to befuddle foxy telemarketers. If
    one doesn't work, just move to the next.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    You mean the absolutely terrible british accent. Best British accent in the world.

  • Chris_paros

    Hahaha, excellent video! I always wondered what it means, and now I know what to tell my friends! (I must be one of the few Greek people that answer with もしもし) Kublai ftw as well ^^

  • http://michaeldowney.net Michael

    Koichi! You fiend! You demon you! Stole this post from my vaults in WordPress didn't you. Come on now…admit it! ^^;

    It seems great minds think alike! I was planning this exact same post, but what is most interesting is that the reason I have for Moshi Moshi is quite different! Will post an entry pronto and link back to you :P

  • http://maisaidso.blogspot.com Mai

    I read the text explaination because I didn't have time to watch the video but I did scroll all the way to the end to see Kublai Kon.

    Foxes are sneaky though! I have them in my neighborhood, and they look so gosh darn cute, but I'm sure they'd probably eat me alive.

  • João Vitor

    British accent LOL

  • Ally

    So, nowadays, when one answers the phone “moshi moshi,” does the caller also say that back? I thought only the receiver of the call said it.

  • Poisson est tres mal.

    That fox is so cute! Do foxes have rabies?

  • Pingback: Why say Moshi Moshi twice? - Michael Downey .net | Gakuranman()

  • mmnessa

    “they turn into beautiful women, marry you, then screw you over (detect any spite in my words? You should.)”
    : '( I'm sure it sucks, getting screwed over by a fox and all…

  • http://tune-in-tokyo.com Billy

    Maybe the first “moshi” was never able to be heard so they always had to repeat themselves and say “moshi” a second time?!

  • DeeLeigh

    Answering the phone in a foreign language is the greatest thing…the number of telemarketers I have had hang up on me is astronomical…that awkward pause and then the click…then laughter on my part….GOOD TIMES! GOOD TIMES!!

  • http://www.squidoo.com/foreign_language_learning Dave Gardner (aka EditorDave)

    Moshi Moshi! Great post. I've been learning “foreign” languages since I was about 10 years old (started when I was taking Gojyu Ryu karate and had to learn all the stances, punches, kicks, and counting in Japanese! (Uma dachi, Neko dachi, Age uke, Mawashi geri, etc.) Then took Spanish in the 9th grade, followed by Japanese again all through high school and college… then a bit of Russian and some Mandarin Chinese thrown in for kicks and giggles. Posts like this one show the fun in learning a new language… you have to learn the culture as well.. and that's what really makes it interesting! I now teach Japanese to homeschool kiddos…(occasionally)… and I'll include this nice post in the lessons to make it more fun for the kids. Thanks for this post!

  • http://www.goddesscarlie.com GoddessCarlie

    I always thought of “moshi moshi” like “is the line connected?” That sort of thing.

    I love your cat's eyeroll. She was made for the camera! Can't wait for more awesome cat videos :)

  • pancho1402

    Dam sneaky foxy bastards i knew they shouldnt be trusted!!

  • http://hellsletter.blogspot.com Ricardo Barbosa Kloss

    heyhey, i choice the fox one… but i care why dog is named dog… i wonder ehy the ethymology of the words… I wonder what is the sense on calling a panela a panela…

  • Alexis Olson

    Thanks! I was always confused about Moshi Moshi. I would say that either that or counters are the weirdest part of the Japanese language to me. But I have only been studying for a year so I am sure there is much more weirdness of the language to come!

  • Surrealeus

    I'm a Ling major with a Japanese minor, and I'm pretty sure the fox bit is accurate. I vote wholeheartedly for fox.

  • MO

    haha, i've been using that word for all my life and never even wondered what it meant….

    so, foxes can use phones but can't say moshi moshi? lol

  • ihaXsakito

    So odd, I was just talking about Moshi Moshi when I saw this. My brother is into a phase when he goes around yelling Moshi Moshi. Klubai is adorable, and just think if she ever got lost you wouldn't have to worry about another cat having the same name.

  • Buju

    I wonder what a conversation would be with a fox.

  • http://www.instant-ramen.net Hao

    It's okay to say it or not to say it. Just like you would in most languages ^^ there's no rule, so kinishinakute ii (don't worry about it) ~ !

  • bayulaut

    What I heard is similar to the 2nd one.
    Moshi moshi = 'Speak speak..' similar to 'Please speak up..'

  • CG

    I'm sorry but as a british person I have to say the british accent was pretty auful. I could see where you're going with it. Nice video and thanks for the explanation. I'd been wondering about that one for a long time :)

  • Koichi_Corrector

    Koichi, you said that 99% of the time moshi moshi is used for the phone and the other 1% is only for when someone is spacing out. I think I have heard another use…in Suicide Club (自殺サークル) I remember there was a scene where the guy alone in the dark and he was calling out to see if anyone was there and he was saying “moshi moshi?….moshi moshi?” There were no phones involved :P BOOM! I just corrected Koichi!! j/k i've only been studying japanese for 9 months I might be wrong ^^

  • MO

    “moshi moshi” practically means “hello”, so yeah, you can use it like that too.

  • Bianca

    hah “oi” means hello in portuguese =)

  • karab1n3r_k90

    Moshi Moshi sounds like cute…i mean…really cute!

  • MercynRe

    It's always the fox. Always.

    And it ALWAYS works on telemarketers… I keep my voicemail in Japanese as well so they put me on the don't call list, and the few messages I get are just kept for amusement due to general confusion and mumbling, or outright asking someone before hanging up to redial the number and tell them WTF WAS THAT.

    I love your new cat for rolling her eyes. Now all of my friends had to sit through 4.5 minutes just to see that, and hate me for having youtube on my phone. And… I didn't go look for my iphone… until about halfway through… cause the ringtone is super annoying to everyone. Hint, it involves me singing loudly at an anime convention, and therefore makes normal people think I'm evil. >_>

  • http://www.myspace.com/kirsipuucherry Amiko

    You mention “mosmoshi” being used to get someone's attention if they're spaced out.
    I thought I'd just add my friends often poke my head and go “pinpo-n”
    (like a door bell ringing “is anyone home?” xD)

  • タシちゃn

    あははは!

  • french man

    In french labguage and Portuguese language we have words with the exactly usage of MOSHI MOSHI….it's “ALO” to both language

  • Pingback: The meaning of “moshi moshi” « Okonomibloggy()

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  • Tyler

    I'm definitely saying “Moshi Moshi” the next time a telemarketer calls me. I get a lot of those, and it can get pretty annoying at times.

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  • http://www.63fight.com/ Roxanne Modafferi

    I have forgotten how hilarious your posts can be. It's been a long time…but I'm going to keep checking back regularly now. ;D

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  • amaniichi

    Muchi Muchi no emi wa kana to omota desu
    this video was really fun.. motto video wa tanshimeshte masu
    arigato ne~

  • Pingback: Why do the Japanese say Moshi-moshi? | Nihonde()

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    I'm definitely saying “Moshi Moshi” the next time a telemarketer calls me. I get a lot of those, and it can get pretty annoying at times.
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  • http://torendi.net/ Jenn

    Thanks for the fun video. I will be adding a link to it on my blog later today. http://torendi.blogspot.com/

  • nini

    im learnin japanese at my school ,but anyway how didi you write that in japanese

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    I used a program called an “input method editor.” If you're on Windows,
    you'd use Microsoft IME, aka “the language bar.” Check the regional and
    language settings for that. If you're using a Mac, it's even easier to set
    up – just drop a check next to Japanese on the International settings panel
    and then use the drop down menu to change the input language. Right now I'm
    using Ubuntu Linux, so I'm using a combination of programs (iBus / anthy).
    The basic effect is the same for all of them, though – you type in roman
    characters using modified Japanese syllables and the corresponding Japanese
    characters appear on screen in hiragana. If you want to use kanji, you can
    usually automatically convert by hitting the spacebar – but be careful -
    make sure you auto-convert to the exact kanji you want to use, not just the
    first one on the list of possibilities. After all, there are zillions of
    homophones in Japanese.

    So, for example, you'd type “watasi” and “わたし” would appear with an
    underline. If you hit the spacebar, you can turn it into “私.” But you should
    be careful, because irrelevant conversions like “渡し” will also be available.
    Good luck using Japanese input! 日本語の入力、頑張ってね!

    :-)

  • nini

    im learnin japanese at my school ,but anyway how didi you write that in japanese

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    I used a program called an “input method editor.” If you're on Windows,
    you'd use Microsoft IME, aka “the language bar.” Check the regional and
    language settings for that. If you're using a Mac, it's even easier to set
    up – just drop a check next to Japanese on the International settings panel
    and then use the drop down menu to change the input language. Right now I'm
    using Ubuntu Linux, so I'm using a combination of programs (iBus / anthy).
    The basic effect is the same for all of them, though – you type in roman
    characters using modified Japanese syllables and the corresponding Japanese
    characters appear on screen in hiragana. If you want to use kanji, you can
    usually automatically convert by hitting the spacebar – but be careful -
    make sure you auto-convert to the exact kanji you want to use, not just the
    first one on the list of possibilities. After all, there are zillions of
    homophones in Japanese.

    So, for example, you'd type “watasi” and “わたし” would appear with an
    underline. If you hit the spacebar, you can turn it into “私.” But you should
    be careful, because irrelevant conversions like “渡し” will also be available.
    Good luck using Japanese input! 日本語の入力、頑張ってね!

    :-)

  • http://www.handbags-club.com/ Designerhandbags

    Great stuff as always, muy interesante!

  • http://hi.baidu.com/yishiym123 TwoBlue

    Can we just trade Koichi for Kublai Khan? (Nothing personal, Koichi.)

  • http://www.handbags-club.com/ Designerhandbags

    Great stuff as always, muy interesante!

  • http://hi.baidu.com/yishiym123 TwoBlue

    Can we just trade Koichi for Kublai Khan? (Nothing personal, Koichi.)

  • Erin

    Yeah why two Moshi's? One is not enough?…teach that damn fox a double lesson I guess. Always drives me crazy when people who speak english say 'bye, bye' … my mother has always said it and I always cringe. Seems almost antagonistical like you are speaking down to the person like you would a child.

  • guest

    moshi moshi umeboshi? haha

  • guest

    In English, most people answer the phone “hello”, and rarely greet people in person with “hello”, unless, same as the guy in the video’s in-person usage of もしもし, one is calling someone to attention. I’ve been saying “hello” in person for a long time, but I’ve come to realize how awkward it is and how no one else says it.

  • TabGuy

    Ha! Now I can finally get that sunuvabitch Kitsune-san who keeps prank-callin’ me…
    me- “Moshi moshi”
    Kitsune- “Err… umm… Mooshin…?”
    me- “Ha! In your elongated face, you red douche!”

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  • EFF_EM_UP_DE_ARSE

    hairy gato, mooshit mooshit

  • Anon

    This is what my japanese teacher told me.

    That people in japan found the telephone to be very disconcerting when it was a new invention. People were worried that they were hearing a ghost on the other end of the line, and not an actual person. Since, supposedly, a ghost cannot repeat what you say, people would say “moshi moshi” to confirm that they were talking to an actual person. If the person on the other end says “Moshi” just once, then it’s a ghost. :/

  • http://www.twitter.com/Paul_Airaghi Paulo Vitor

    Sir, In Portuguese language we use the word “Oi” as meaning “Hi”, in English language.
    Maybe it’s a portuguese word imported by japanese people.
    As we know, portuguese and spanish people are the first europeans to stablish commercial relactions with japanese people, in the Muromachi period (15-16th century).
    And, as you can see here in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_words_of_Portuguese_origin , other words of japanese language are originated from portuguese

    So, that’s my guess about the “oi oi” (おいおい) used in telephone, even if that article not feature such “deduction”…..

  • Fdsfsafsdaf

    japs suck

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001822996128 Joe Ahlstrand

    Fox 1 is cooler. I dean that the explanation

  • Abi

    Moshi Moshi! Watched it in chibi vampire.

  • http://twitter.com/azutoame azuma mutea

    okay. i believe the fox.

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  • http://fr.bride.md/ Fiancee russe

    Always was interested in this theme! So, if you say it on the phone, you can confirm whether or not you’re getting tricked. This works on telemarketers as well.

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    What an excellent blog! Since, supposedly, a ghost cannot repeat what you say, people would say “moshi moshi” to confirm that they were talking to an actual person. If the person on the other end says “Moshi” just once, then it’s a ghost.

  • http://www.crowdpeople.com/ meet people

    Rather actually! It seems great minds think alike! I was planning this exact same post, but what is most interesting is that the reason I have for Moshi Moshi is quite different! Will post an entry pronto and link back to you.

  • On the DL

    if the fox was cute enough she could trick me all day ;P 

  • murasaki

    My cat “quacks” too!

  • Mahima Chawla

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arfjorjQ-s0
    Moshi Moshi. Hahahahahahaha. XD

  • http://twitter.com/HonoluluHale Elliot Domalewski

    ALOHA – MUSHI MUSH

  • Jaspal Goshal

    Your cat is so adorable!

  • sara sara

    interesting article, like the cute fox.

  • 1timeCommenter

    Koichi, you’re a fox! XD

  • http://www.aveganobsession.com/ INDIA LEIGH

    So FUNNY! Love the British accent…lol

  • http://digitalblogindia.in/ Kunal

    You say that you won’t hear Moshi Moshi other than telephone conversation, but i just travelled to Japan and in every restaurant i went to, everybody greeted me with Moshi Moshi. I actually never heard anybody say Konichiwa or Sayonara. I travelled to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagano….your country is just awesome :-)

  • hj

    jkj

  • rebecca

    ther is a game cald moshi monsters

  • ramenannonymous

    No I saw it in Guilty Crown too. Ayase used it when two people were kind of spacing out. But I think its one of those things like, if you’re a native then its okay for you just because they assume you did it on purpose. But if you’re a non-native then they think you did it accidentally or because you didn’t know better :/
    Kinda sucks, I think Moshi moshi, sounds pretty cool

  • Durk

    They were probably saying irashaimase, or ‘”welcome”. Sounds similar though.

  • http://digitalblogindia.in/ Kunal

    Yes it was Irashaimase, my friend helped me figure that out :-) Thanks again

  • AWESOME GURL

    Thanks’ I FINALLY proved my older brother wrong HA he doesn’t know Japanese he knows German so why does he get to talk lol

  • Melanie Kay Gowing

    Well… thats kinda scary actually :O