samo-samo—a pidgin expression developed in the Pacific during and after World War II meaning “just the same.”  Sometimes this is Americanized as “same old-same old.”

A pidgin language is a makeshift language developed by a blending of two other languages as the speakers of each come into contact and attempt to communicate.  Generally one language predominates (called a “lexifer”).  While pidgins are quickly formed and fluid, they develop into creoles, fully developed languages with their own vocabularies and grammars.

Bazaar Malay pidgin—Malay based, widespread from Malasia to the Phillipines from the mid 1500s.  Malay frequently uses reduplication of words.

Melanesian pidgin—English-based—simplified, with little grammar—developed as the English contacted natives of Papua New Guinea, and South Pacific islands beginning in the 1740s.

Japanese Ports (Yokohama) Pidgin was a Japanese-based language adapted to English pronunciation.  Its beginnings were soon after Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan to foreign trade.  It was used by traders, sailors from 1860s.

Bamboo English was an English based pidgin called that incorporated Japanese and Korean words.  It was developed and used by U.S. military personnel in the late stages of WWII and early decades thereafter.

American troops encountered several such pidgins in WWII as they moved from the South Pacific to Japan and Korea, they .  There were numerous pidgins based on English in the South Pacific and pidgins based on Malay in the Western Pacific.   Then, with the occupation of Japan, U.S. Servicemen encountered the Japanese based pidgin that had been used in trade ports since the opening of Japan in the second half of the 1800s.  Servicemen by necessity dealing with Japanese one-on-one quickly developed a new English-based pidgin incorporating Japanese (and later Korean) words into a “Bamboo English.”  

In an article, by John Stuart Goodman in an article in Anthropological Linguistics documented development of an English-Japanese pidgin in occupied Japan.  In 1954, the Air Force sent a group of advisors to support the operations of a unit of Japanese airmen in a town called Hamamatsu, south of Tokyo, but isolated from established U.S. bases.  Placed there on their own, by necessity, a pidgin language developed.  The servicemen quickly began using Japanese words they picked up in conversations with each other as well as with their Japanese counterparts and in the bars and shops they frequented.  The author points out a feature that strongly contributed to the development of a mutually understandable pidgin language.  He calls it re-reproduction.  It is the back and forth attempts on the part of both linguistic partners to adapt their speech to that of the others until a linguistic compromise between the two languages was effected.  The article mentions “samo-samo” as one of the expressions contained in the Bamboo English lexicon.

The verbal nature of pidgin explains the difficulty in tracking down the origin of such phrases as “samo samo”There are scattered references in publications to “samo-samo,” but like most pidgin words and phrases, its use was primarily verbal.  

Whether “samo-samo” has a longer history is difficult to say.  The reduplication of the word “samo” is reminiscent of the reduplication of words in Malayo-Polynesian languages so it may have been brought by WWII airmen from previous contact with natives using the Bazaar Malay Pidgin.  Hamamatsu is close to Yokohama, one of the trading ports where Japanese Ports Pidgin was used and “samo samo” may have been adopted from that older pidgin language. 

Word origins—The word “pidgin” comes from the Chinese attempt to say the English word “business.”  Créole is a French word developed in the 1600s, from Spanish criollo “person native to a locality” and ultimately from Latin creare “to produce, create.”


Goodman, J. S. (1967)  The Development of a Dialect of English-Japanese Pidgin,  Anthropological Linguistics, 9, 43-55.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/30029203

Norman, A. M. Z. (1955).  Bamboo English: The Japanese Influence upon American Speech in Japan.  American Speech, 30, 44-48.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/454192

Daniels, F. J. (1948).  The Vocabulary of the Japanese Ports Lingo.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 12, 805-823.  http://.jstor org/stable/ 608738

Avram, A. A. (2014). Yokohama Pidgin Japanese Revisited.  Acta Linguistica Asiatica, 4.   DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4312/ala.4.2.67-84