The word karaoke clearly doesn't seem like it has English origins; looking at it, it is obviously Japanese. Well, there are more layers than one would think. It's a double borrowing! Karaoke, or the singing pastime, was coined in 1979 as a portmanteau of kara ("empty") and oke ("orchestra"). It was named thus because in karaoke, one normally sings without accompaniment. Especially since I'm terrible at transliterating Oriental languages, I can't trace kara further, but it seems to have normal Proto-Japonic origins. However, oke is an abbreviation of okesutora (still meaning "orchestra") which was an honest-to-god plagiarism of the English word orchestra. This means that an English word was borrowed from a Japanese word which was borrowed from an English word! Wow. Anyway, the word orchestra used to refer to the space where the musicians played, and through Latin it derives from Greek orkhestra, or "a place where dancers perform", changing the meaning slightly. This is a conjugated form of orkheisthai, which meant "to dance". Going further back, this is a modified version of erkhomai ("to go"), from the Proto-Indo-European root for "to move", ergh. When people dance to karaoke, they have no clue how etymologically ironic that is.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.