"Tycoon" is a folk spelling invented by American writers when they heard the fantastic stories brought back from Japan by travelers and traders. A more acceptable spelling would be "Taikun," the kanji for which comes out to something along the lines of "the big you."

The word entered the early American meme pool when these American journalists were trying to come up with new ways to attack steel barons and railbarons that were starting to manipulate the government by buying favors that would better their businesses.

The story went that the Emperor was supposed to be in charge of Japan, but, in reality, the Emperor had almost no power, and everything was run by the "Tycoons." Thus the term "Rail Road Tycoon" meant a plutocrat who bribed his way through the government and pulled the strings from behind the scenes.


"Tycoon" is interesting, because it's not really a Japanese term. The Japanese word was ôkimi. What happened was that the Chinese on-reading was used to interpret the characters, rather than the native kun-reading that the Westerners didn't know yet.

Even ôkimi was a crappy way to refer to the shogun. It was actually nothing more than a title conferred by the Emperor. In the pre-samurai days of Japan, ôkimi were the people running the temporal world, and by the time white folks started showing up, the entire system had changed to make the title effectively moot.

Anyway, if you use the word "tycoon" with a Japanese person, it will probably confuse them. They might think you're saying taikû, which means "anti-aircraft."

Ty*coon" (?), n. [Chinese tai-kun great prince.]

The title by which the shogun, or former commander in chief of the Japanese army, was known to foreigners.


© Webster 1913.

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