In May 1980, the game Puck-Man was released in Japan, starring a lovable yellow protagonist fleeing ghosts while eating pixels. Five months later, Pac-Man released in the United States. Why the switch? Game developers were afraid of crude colloquial substitutions of the leading p with an f, which would ruin the innocent fun of the game for many, so the vowel change occurred. Now, back in Japan when Puck-Man was first coined, the term had nothing to do with pucks as we know them. It most likely came from the Japanese verb paku, meaning "chomp". This occasionally could take the form of paku paku, defined as "flapping open and closed", with a specific emphasis on the mouth. Essentially, chomping. Obviously all this chomping stuff refers to all the eating Pacman does in the game. Usage of the term Pac-man peaked in 1985 but has experienced a recent resurgence.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.