|bell tied to a horse; sleigh bell; jingle bell||potato; yam|
The earliest known attestation in Chinese is found in the Kangxi edition of the Gazetteer of Songxi County (《松溪縣志》), published in 1700, but based on its description, it is improbable that it referred to the potato but, instead, referred to the air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) (Xiang, 2018). The name probably originally made reference to the way air potatoes look like bells used in the tack for horses.
Alternatively, considering this word is mainly distributed in the South, and that other forms in the area, such as 荷蘭薯／荷兰薯 and 番仔番薯, usually include a modifier meaning “foreign”, Suzuki (2013) suggests that 馬鈴／马铃 (mǎlíng) may be a variant of 馬來／马来 (Mǎlái, “Malay”).
|Kanji in this term|
Origin unclear. Attributed to noted Edo-period botanist and scholar of Chinese medicine Ono Ranzan (see 小野蘭山) in the late 1700s. May be from Sinitic 馬鈴薯, or may be a Japanese coinage later borrowed into Chinese.
According to one theory, this word is a compound of 馬鈴 (barei, “horse bell”) + 薯 (sho, “potato”), from the way the potato looks a bit like the bells used in the tack for stage horses. In another theory, 馬鈴 (barei) is an example of ateji for Malay, since potatoes were introduced to Japan via the Dutch East Indies.