Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hunger, Games

(Disclaimer: This post is not about Hunger Games in any way.)

Perhaps you are both a video game enthusiast and also a general smartypants. I mean, wow, your social calendar must be just exploding, but we’re not here to trade insults. Let’s just say you feel equally comfortable with a joystick or a copy of The Book of Lists in your hand, and when you’re not shuffling pixels around a screen you’re chasing down some new point of trivia that will just make you the envy of your message board cohorts.

If that’s the case, you might know that Pac-Man was, in his earliest incarnations, known as Puck-Man, and that his name was only changed because a vandal armed with a magic marker could have easily blacked out the edge of that “P” and rendered the game pornographic. A lot of you doubly nerdy types know that one. But why Puck-Man, especially given that he’s not all that hockey puck-like? The name comes from this Japanese word, paku paku, which describes the sound (kinda) but also the action (kinda) of chomping — literally “eating in big mouthfuls,” according to this collection of the Japanese quasi-onomatopoeia. (Basically, these words cover the sound effects we use but also name phenomenon that don’t actually make noise, like glimmering light or an intense stare. Also, they’re adverbs. It’s weird.) And paku paku is a sensible word to inspire Pac-Man’s name because eating is all he does. Hell, eating is all he is, given that the most basic representation of him is just a moving mouth.

Keeping that in mind, Mr. Game-Playing Smartypants, consider this: In Japan, the name of the bitey, chompy, pipe-dwelling carnivorous weeds that you find in Super Mario Bros. is Pakkun Flower. The name totally comes from the same mouth-flapping Japanese word. And, now that you think about it, you have to admit: Both being video game characters that you’ve known more or less your entire life, they have a lot in common, Pac-Man and the Piranha Plant.


And that common thing is eating, constantly eating, even eating when there’s nothing to be eaten, but still biting, always biting, biting the air, eating the air, always eating. And if you’re that lame-o who exists at the precise cross-section of video game dork and trivia-scouting word nerd, this fact will seem neat and novel and totally noteworthy.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:28 PM

    How did Namco get from pakupaku to Puck?

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    1. Basically, the closest approximation Japan has to the vowel sound in puck is the back vowel a (the a sound in palm and spa), so pakupaku -> pakku -> Puck. Why they didn't go with Pack or Pakku is anyone's guess, though I'm guessing they went with something that looked more foreign because English is cool over there.

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    2. Sir, your explanation is more eloquent (and more accurate) than any I could have mustered.

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