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According to Google NGram, "Kinki" and "Kansai" (which are pretty synonymous) used to be roughly equally common, but Kansai is now more common.

Is this difference statistically different? And if so, what contributed to it? Could the word "kinky" have contributed to it? Google NGram doesn't indicate a spectacular rise for the word, but that could be because it didn't use to be used in a sexual sense, whereas that meaning has become more common over time - I don't know how to measure that though.

The other explanation I can think of is that Japanese people use "Kinki" less nowadays, and that the relative use of "Kinki" versus "Kansai" has spilled over into English.

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Doesn't this belong on Japanese.SE? Neither word is properly an English word, and no one without special knowledge of Japanese would understand what kansai means, let alone kinki (which, like Shawn Mooney, I've never heard till now). –  Robusto Feb 10 '13 at 11:52
    
@Robusto how do you define what is properly an English word? –  Andrew Grimm Feb 10 '13 at 12:29
    
Certainly we use foreign words in English, but if you're trying to claim that kansai is an English word (and that this is a question about English on that basis) then you will have to include kantou, chiku, kasumigaseki and others as English words. We have to draw the line somewhere. –  Robusto Feb 10 '13 at 13:17
    
So they're place names? In that case I certainly agree that this doesn't belong here! –  Mr Lister Feb 10 '13 at 14:37
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I'm afraid I don't see how any opinion from ELU can possibly be relevant to how the Japanese view their own language and words within it in relation to English words. –  Andrew Leach Feb 10 '13 at 17:37
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closed as off topic by Robusto, tchrist, Andrew Leach, MετάEd, aedia λ Feb 10 '13 at 22:51

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

We can combine your two observations into the same query, thus:

enter image description here

And while kinky has been more common than either Kinki or Kansai in English, the rise of kinky does seem to correspond with the decline of Kinki pretty strongly.

Other factors could include earlier texts being more likely to have one misread by the other by google's OCR, but it seems a reasonable conclusion.

Quite aside from the connotations being inappropriate, avoiding homophones is always a reason to favour one synonym over another.

Others though include the simple fact of which is more often seen by readers leading words to be one of the cases where nothing succeeds like success, or the simple fact that the latter just looks more Japanese to an English-speaking reader. Certainly, I immediately thought that Kansai looked like a Japanese word, but didn't have the same reaction to Kinki, so that would be a reason in itself to favour it for an English-speaking audience. Connotations will still help too of course (I don't care how many relatives my partner has called Bent, I'm not naming any future son that if he's going to live in an English-speaking country).

However, "関西地方" gives me more google results than "近畿地方", and while some are clearly google knowing they're synonyms, that does suggest that Kansai is more popular than Kinki in Japanese too, which would hence be a source of comparative popularity when used in English.

It's possible that knowledge of the English has even affected the Japanese preference, though we'd need similar data in Japanese to even begin to judge the possibility.

So in all, I think we can say that the similarity to an English word is certainly a very plausible as a reason for favouring one over the other, but it's not proven, and certainly not proven as the only reason.

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Ngrams don't always tell the whole story, of course, but, in this case, the behavior of the blue and green lines during the late 1960s seems very telling. +1. –  J.R. Feb 10 '13 at 16:54
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Andrew, I have been living in Tokyo for 4 years, have tons of friends and students from the Kansai region, and have visited the area several times. For what it's worth, I have never heard Kinki used as a synonym for Kansai until I read your post and clicked on the wikipedia link.

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