sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins

3.12. Is desu a contraction of de arimasu?

There are a wide variety of explanations for the origin of desu, with none of them achieving the status of standard explanation. Explanations include origins in de sō (で候), a polite ending used in Kyogen and Noh plays, de arimasu, and de gozaimasu.

The Daijisen dictionary states[1][2]

「です」の語源については、「で候」「でおはす」「でございます」「であります」など諸説ある。「です」は室町時代以降の語で、能・狂言では、大名・奏者・鬼・山伏などの名のり言葉で、近世では、男伊達(おとこだて)・遊女など限られた人物、特殊な場面に多く用いられる言葉であった。一般に丁寧語として使われ、諸活用形を用いるようになったのは江戸末期・明治期になってからである。
Translation:
There are many theories on the origin of desu, including de sō, de ohasu, de gozaimasu, and de arimasu. The word desu dates from the Muromachi period (1337-1573), and it is used in Noh and Kyogen for self-introduction of characters such as Daimyo, Sōshaban, demons, and priests. In recent history, it was used in some circumstances by certain kinds of persons such as chivalrous men and prostitutes. It became widespread as a form of polite speech and used in a variety of tenses from the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) and the Meiji period (1868-1912).

The Daijirin dictionary states[3]

(1)〔「でそう(で候)」の転かといわれる〕やや尊大な語感をもって、丁寧な断定の意を表す。狂言で、大名その他の名乗りなどに用いられる。
「是はこのあたりにかくれもない大名〈です〉/狂言・鼻取相撲」「信濃の国の住人あさふのなにがし〈です〉/狂言・麻生」
(2)〔「でござります」からの転かといわれる〕文末の終止に用いて、丁寧な断定の意を表す。江戸中期以降、遊女・男伊達(おとこだて)・医者などによって用いられたもの。
「是すなはち物をくらつてすぐに吐くもの〈です〉/滑稽本・浮世風呂(前)」
〔...(2)「です」の語源については、「でそう(で候)」説、「でござります」説、「であります」説、その他があるが、まだ定説化されたものはない。一の「です」は、明治以降、次第に一般に広く用いられるようになった〕
Translation:
(1) [Said to be from de sō] A fairly respectful way to come to a conclusion. Used in Kyogen to announce Daimyos and others.
Kore wa kono atari ni kakure mo nai daimyō desu / from the Kyogen play Hanatorizumō[a] Shinano no kuni no sumibito asafu no nanigashiku desu / from the Kyogen play Asō[b]
(2) [Said to be from de gozaimasu] A polite way to come to a conclusion, used at the end of a sentence. Used by prostitutes, chivalrous men, doctors, etc.
kono sunahachi mono wo kuratte sugu ni haku mono desu / Kokkeibon Ukiyoburo[c] (first half) ...
There are various etymologies for desu including the de sō etymology, the de gozaimasu etymology, the de arimasu etymology, and others, but none of these has become widely accepted. Desu became widely used after the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Notes

  1. Hanatorizumō (鼻取相撲), a kyogen play, author and date unknown.
  2. Asō (麻生), a kyogen play, author and date unknown.
  3. Ukiyoburo (浮世風呂), a kokkeibon (illustrated comic novel) dating from 1809-1813 by Shikitei Sanba.

References

  1. Matsumura, Akira (July 2010). Daijisen. Shogakukan.
  2. Goo online dictionary (Daijisen)
  3. Weblio online dictionary (Daijirin)

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