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In most variants of Mahjong with restrictions on when a player can complete their hand off a discarded tile (especially Japanese Mahjong with furiten), the English rules refer to the situation as a "sacred discard". This confuses me, because the kanji etymology for furiten (振聴) seems to mean something more like "thrown-away tenpai" (as in 振り聴牌, furi-tenpai), and no other variant that I know of has a specific word for it like Japanese does.

Where did the term "sacred discard" come from, in that case? Was it just a culturally interpretive term invented by English-speaking players? Or does this term actually exist in some variant?

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I do not know the answer, but I asked in a experienced Mahjong group I'm in, kindly received a most valuable pointer and was subsequently able to extend it to this answer:

Was it just a culturally interpretive term invented by English-speaking players?

Probably. An online search brough up http://i.imgur.com/crKOGnw.png (A Mah Jong Handbook: How to Play, Score, and Win, https://books.google.de/books?isbn=1462905005), which is from 1964 and may be a root source others copied from.

Note that Mahjong was introduced to Japan only in 1924, so it took some time for it to divert from the Chinese rules (and create Riichi), and further more for it to be adapted into English and into books. That this took about 40 years is not unlikely.

From the group's reaction it also appears that, depending where and with whom you play Mahjong, there is a fair chance you won't encounter the term 'sacred discard' at all, even though Wikipedia uses it occasionally (especially in introductory articles). Personally, I've also always seen, heard and used the original furiten instead (but I am not a regular player, so that amounts to not much).

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"Sacred discard" is a western interpretation of the rules they perceived to be in place around 1964. However, the details provided in that 1964 book describe many rules that conflict with each other and that are not part of the modern game today.

More imaginative terms that reflect better the fallen aspect of "furi" are hallowed or damned. Sacred is a bit of language that has a positive connotation: being in furiten is exactly not that.

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