Something I noticed when I were returning from an exam in theoretical physics:

You may have heard of this word, at least if you’re playing video games or are reading fantasy novels? Anyway, I think this word has a nice literary ring to it and sounds quite soft. And we observe it’s a bit longer than your basic Japanese verb.

So, where did this word come from? Does it just mean “be revived” or is there some hidden meaning/nuance to it, why it means what it does? And why does it only mean “be revived”, but not “revive something?”

Well, we quickly notice that the kanji spelling doesn’t help us at all. That’s to be expected, after all Kanji were imported from China, but what we want to do is to figure out where a (native) Japanese word came from. When we’re talking about the etymology of Japanese words, using kanji is just distracting.

Next, as I said before, the word is a bit longer than most basic Japanese verbs. So it stands to reason it might be a compound of two (or more) words. Do you see any obvious candidate?

Taking a look at the beginning of the word, we find “yomi”. And we remember that the word “黄泉”(yomi) refers to the mythological land of the dead.

Would make sense, it has something to do with “revival.” But is it just our fancy, or are we really up to something? And what about the rest, “gaeru?”

This is also a Japanese word, ”帰る”(kaeru), which means “to return.” Recall that voicing when two words are joined together is a common phenomenon, and we’ve got ourself a hypothesis:

“yomigaeru” = “yomi” (“land of the dead”) + “kaeru” (“return”) = “return from the land of the dead” = “be resurrected”

And taking a look in a dictionary, we confirm our hypothesis.

よみがえる: 黄泉から帰るの意 (明鏡国語辞典, Meikyou Dictionary of Japanese)

I made the first discussion a bit lengthy to illustrate the thought process how you can figure out these things. I’ll try and be a bit more concise in further entries.

Lastly, the etymology of 蘇 is somewhat more complex, but 甦 is explained easily: It’s just a combination of the two kanji 更+生=”again”+”life.” The former is also used for the word 更に(sara ni), “furthermore.”