Bob McGuigan: I always thought it came from "ippon nuki", ippon being "one" and nuki from nuku to take out (= capture).
Bob Myers: "pon" is onomatopoetic--the sound of the capture, a sort of popping sound. As Bob says, nuki is simply "capture".
Bob Myers: Aha! An intriguing new definition of correctness-whether or not something "sounds reasonable". Unfortunately, the "pon" of "ippon" never occurs in isolation; it is a phonological variant of "hon", occurring only in combinations such as "ippon", "roppon" and so on.
Bildstein: Well, I didn't say it made it correct, but why not. Let's vote via plus or minus and make it official :) Seriously, though, when talking about words whose etymology may be either onomatopoeic or something else, it is very difficult to prove that it is onomatopoeic.
Dave Not really but it requires appropriate resources :-). The glossary in the back of my copy of Yamabe's Gendai Joseki Jiten (Modern Joseki Dictionary) says that it is onomatopoeic. I thought I wrote this on one of the ponnuki-related pages a year or two ago but could not find it with the search function. Perhaps it was edited away later.
It looks like this isn't the first time this sort of discussion had been entered into: A Wikipedia article on "false etymology".
Chris Hayashida: Sort of after the fact, but the -hon counter is only used for long, thin objects, like pencils. (It's sort of funny that a long, skinny island could be called "Nihon" even though there's only one long, skinny island. :) Unless Go stones were different shapes back then, it would have to be hitotsu nuki or stonuki or something.
Velobici: In that case the -hon would be referring to two (ni) objects. Which two islands would that be? ;)
Chris Hayashida: Too much sake = Honshu x 2?
Fhayashi: dude, Chris, did you not take Japanese at UCLA for the easy grades? The hon in Nihon refers to "base" or "source". (Recall the kanji).
Chris Hayashida: Heh, I know. It was a sad attempt at a bi-lingual pun. The xgf calls them "old man jokes." I didn't take Japanese at school. If I did, I probably would have flunked. I took the 9-week course much later.
Fhayashi: Anyhow, ponnuki can't be onomatopoeic, because no matter what rank the person beating me, the stones don't make a "pon" sound when they are captured. (Infact, the only noise is me saying "doh!")
Alex: I know you're kidding, but it does bring up the interesting point of onomatopoeia in foreign languages seeming wrong more often than right, such as Korean dogs saying "Mong! Mong!" After two years living there, I still don't know how they hear that, but I don't hear "bow wow" either. I do like "bogeul bogeul" for boiling water, though. Anyway, I imagine the Korean sound for a stone being captured would be something similar to the Japanese "pon" - balloons popping are "Pan pan!" and gunshots are "Tang tang!" and as far as I can tell, the Japanese and Korean ear for onomatopoeia are fairly similar.
kokiri - zaa zaa for rain anybody? In Japan there are giongo which are onomatopoeia for sounds, and gitaigo, which are not sound related, but refer to emotions, shapes etc. For example pocha pocha for attractively plump, waku waku is kinda excited, niko niko sparkles. Thus pon could not be a sound, but rather reflect the way that i play my stone and pon! the white stone is captured.
Alex: Korean has the same thing, e.g. "ddok-ddok" for clever, which makes me smile, because the sound always makes me think of someone tapping their head with a hollow coconut sound... which would seem to be the opposite of what the expression actually implies.
Bill: Hmmm. It seems like we're heading towards an onomatopoetic etymology of ponnuki as meaning silent. ;-)
kokiri - the sound of one hand clapping? Ponnuki!
Bob McGuigan: I don't know whether or not this is a positive contribution to the discussion but, as I recall, the game record keeper in the TV go tournaments in Japan says ichi moku nuki when describing a move that captures one stone. It has been 20 years since I watched those programs so my memory might be confused.
Bob Myers: I have also heard the expression pon to nuku (capture with a pon).