Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Other Other Other Plumber

A conversation today made me feel that an explanation on a certain matter was in order. It concerns this lanky mustache-twiddling villain:


No, that's not Dick Dastardly.

Today I heard the claim that this resident of the Super Mario Bros. universe sucks, and though I'm not willing to dispute that, I will call foul on one of the reasons most often cited for his suckitude. His name. Many feel that his name just sounds too awkward. "Waluigi" — Luigi plus the syllable "wa" in front of it, weirdly identifying this guy as the evil Luigi. My geekiness has actually allowed me to dispel this myth, somewhat. Though "Waluigi" is nonetheless hard to say, there's a good enough reason for why his name is what it is.

Basically, Nintendo set up a verbal system to identify Mario characters that exist as evil versions of other Mario characters with Wario, the evil Mario. Whereas Mario is chubby and honorable, Wario is obese and greedy. From a western standpoint, one might seem that Wario's name derives from a simple inversion of the "M" to a "W." After all, Wario is a sort of "flipped" Mario. However, that's actually just a happy coincidence. Wario's name is actually a portmanteau of "Mario" and warui, the Japanese word for "evil." It was natural, then, that an associate of Wario who happened to be a "flipped" version of Luigi would have a name that followed the same pattern.

The name, however, makes a lot more sense in Japanese. Remember that the stereotypical ambiguity between "R" and "L" when translating from Japanese to English is actually true and that, coming from a Japanese mouth, the names would be "Ruigi" and Waruigi." Thus, Luigi's name slides perfectly out of warui as they share a syllable. What's more, Waluigi's name, when spelled with the "R," happens to be a anagram for the Japanese word igiwaru, which can translate as "a bad person" in English.

In short, it's a halfway decent pun, once you consider Japanese into the equation.

The notion of Wario's name beginning with the flipped Mario "M" is also reflected in Waluigi, if somewhat nonsensically. The logo on his cap — and his response to the "M," "L," or "W" on Mario, Luigi or Wario's caps — is an upside-down "L."

The trail ends there, as far as Super Mario Bros. characters anybody would actually recognize. A evil, dark blue Yoshi that appeared in Super Mario RPG was named "Boshi" in America but "Washi" in Japan. And "Washi" could be considered a contraction of "Warui Yoshi," or "bad Yoshi."

On a side note, there's a widely distributed theory that Mario and Luigi's names come from the Japanese words marui and ruigi, meaning "round" and "similar," respectively. I don't know if that's true, though it would be neat if it were. Nearly just as often, there's the theory that Mario got his name from a Mr. Mario Segali, landlord for Nintendo of America's office. People who have done their homework have more often claimed this story is true, and I'm inclined to believe them. However, even if that's true, then the ruigi story isn't necessarily false, as Luigi's original in-game sprite and even concept art for him was just Mario's look in an alternate color scheme. As it if wasn't complicated enough, there's another widely cited story about Luigi having been named after Mario & Luigi's, a pizza parlor near Nintendo of America's Washington office. Again, who knows what's true, but it's a coincidence worth noting anyway.

4 comments:

  1. It's a little old, but this is a great find! I came from your recent post "Its a Secret to Everybody" and must say thanks to you for confirming my theory. :) I too had thought it was Japanese for warui, but I thought I was just crazy and never told anyone about it. :)

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  2. Anonymous3:34 AM

    Great post!

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  3. Wow, I didn't know that getting Japanese into the equation would really complicate things so extremely. Who knew the evil name of a plumber could be so meaningful and is not simply a flipped version of the non-evil plumber. Now then I find out naming a screen character is not as easy as it sounds or looks. It needs deep drilling into the meaning and naming convention to provide a catchy yet meaningful name for the world to decipher and understand.

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  4. Anonymous6:29 PM

    Just letting you know, NoA named Mario, because Americans preferred their protagonists to have names. So the name-of-landlord-who-barged-into-a-meeting-demanding-rent theory is probably likely.

    However, I believe that Luigi was named by the Japanese, so the ruigi theory is likely, rather than the pizza-parlor story.

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