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autumn; fall; harvest time; a swing
knife fish
trad. (秋刀魚)
simp. (秋刀鱼)
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  1. Pacific saury (Cololabis saira)


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秋刀魚 (sanma): a Pacific saury, also called a mackerel pike.
Kanji in this term
Grade: 2 Grade: 2 Grade: 2

Alternative formsEdit



  • Theorized as alteration from earlier compound (sa, narrow, in reference to the slender body of the fish) + 真魚 (mana, edible fish). /samana//samuma//samma/
  • An alternative derivation suggests 狭間 (sama, narrow space) + (na, fish, ancient term, and part of the roots of modern reading sakana), where ma again references the narrowness of the fish's body, but this is problematic, as (ma) can only refer to the space between things, not the width of a thing itself.
  • Another possibility is that sanma is cognate with (saba, mackerel). The two kinds of fish are somewhat similar, and sanma is even called mackerel pike in English. In addition, the voiced plosive /b/ sound in modern Japanese appears to have been pre-nasalized in Old Japanese as something closer to /mb/, and there is evidence of /b//m/ alternation in various terms in Japanese. There is also Ainu サㇺバ (samba, mackerel),[1] likely a borrowing either into or from Japanese. This suggests that modern sanma may have arisen as an /m//b/ alteration of older sanba.

The 秋刀魚 spelling likely arose quite recently in 1922 during the Taisho period, when a popular poem by Haruo Satō used this spelling. This is ateji (当て字), in reference to the fish's harvest season of autumn () and its blade-shaped body ().[2] Another ateji spelling found starting from the Edo period is 三馬, which would likely be read as either sanma or sanba.



秋刀魚 (hiragana さんま, katakana サンマ, rōmaji sanma)

  1. Cololabis saira: Pacific saury, mackerel pike

Usage notesEdit

As with many terms that name organisms, this term is often spelled in katakana, especially in biological contexts, as サンマ.



  1. ^ John Batchelor (1905) An Ainu-English-Japanese dictionary (including a grammar of the Ainu language)[1], Tokyo; London: Methodist Publishing House; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner Co.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2006, 大辞林 (Daijirin), Third Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN
  3. ^ 1998, NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典 (NHK Japanese Pronunciation Accent Dictionary) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: NHK, →ISBN

Further readingEdit