sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins

3.13. What is the origin of saboten?

The origin of the word saboten (仙人掌,覇王樹,サボテン), meaning "cactus", is unclear. It may be a combination of the Portuguese word for soap, sabão and te (手), "hand". This was because a kind of cactus called uchiwa saboten was used for cleaning oil from tatami mats.

It is also speculated to have come from the Spanish "sapote".

sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins

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