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Karaoke – Podictionary Word of the Day

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The word karaoke is a kind of ping-pong-ball word in that its elements have bounced back and forth across western and eastern cultures.

A few weeks ago at the podictionary website one of the words of the day was karate and I touched on the fact that this Japanese word literally meant “empty hand.”

The initial element of karate also appears in the word karaoke.

In the case of karaoke though what is empty isn’t the hand but the vocal track.

karaokeThis is because karaoke is a kind of sing-along where the instrumental track plays while any tone-deaf romantic with a drink inside them can bellow out the lyrics.

This is an activity that could never have happened before the age of electronics and a word that could never have happened before the age of globalization.

The main money in karaoke is in supplying the latest popular songs with the voices of the pop-stars removed. For those who can’t quite remember the words these are provided, scrolling along the screen.

The word karaoke breaks down as kara meaning “empty” and oke short for okesutora.

If you don’t speak Japanese and think that you don’t know what the word okesutora means that’s okay because before Japanese borrowed the word from English they didn’t know either; in Japanese okesutora means “orchestra.”

Thus karaoke means “empty orchestra.” An empty orchestra just waiting for you to fill it up with your golden voice.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

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