Today, everybody knows the word tofu - the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows it as being in the top 11,000 most used English words and Google Trends shows the number of searches for it being about equal to those for pickle - but virtually nobody used it until the 1970s, when it was popularized by hippies promoting it as a vegetarian meat alternative. The first documented instance of an American referring to tofu was Benjamin Franklin in a 1770 letter, who thought it was a Chinese cheese, but the word was first actually used in 1876. It comes from Japanese tofu, which indeed traces to a Chinese word sounding like doufu and meaning the same thing. That derives from the Middle Chinese words duw, meaning "bean", and bju, meaning "fermented" or "rotten", which is lovely.
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.