I was delighted to find that this word I simply stumbled upon in search of my next post did not have European roots, the first on this site like it. The word tycoon, defined as "a wealthy person", actually came from Japanese and has a very peculiar origin. The first appearance of this word was in the Chinese dialect of Shinjing, where it meant "big" and probably sounded something like da. This passed into Chinese as the word tai, and meant "great or eminent". Around the same time, the word kiun also showed up, meaning "lord". These two words were not connected at all until the Japanese took them, put them together, and created taikun, a title meaning "great prince or leader". This was an actual term used to describe the shogun of Japan for a couple hundred years until those darn Americans came to unlock trade rights with Japan. There, the secretary of Abraham Lincoln, John Hay, took the word and used it in 1861 to describe the Republican president, since he too was considered a "great leader" by many. A few spelling altercations and taikun became tycoon, but it didn't start to refer to wealthy people until the 1920s, when many leaders were also fabulously wealthy, so "wealth" became equal to "power" until the "power" part was dropped completely for no reason at all.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd