These two Japanese words have been generally misunderstood by Westerners to mean the same thing. Though they both refer to suicide, they have different applications. "Harakiri" means to commit suicide by way of a knife inserted in the abdomen, usually utilized by men. "Seppuku" on the other hand, is suicide committed by a woman by inserting a knife to the throat.
 
 
sep·pu·ku
/sɛˈpu/  Show Spelled [se-poo-koo]  Show IPA
–noun

hara-kiri ( def. 1 ) .
 


Origin:
1900–05; < Japn, earlier s ( y ) et-puku  < MChin, equiv. to Chin qiè  cut +  belly


 

ha·ra-ki·ri
/ˈhɑrəˈkɪəri, ˈhærə-, ˈhæri-/  Show Spelled [hahruhkeer-ee, haruh, har-ee-]  Show IPA
–noun

1.

Also called seppuku. ceremonial suicide by ripping open the abdomen with a dagger or knife: formerly practiced in Japan by members of the warrior class when disgraced or sentenced to death.
2.

suicide or any suicidal action; a self-destructive act: political hara-kiri.


 
Origin:
1855–60; < Japn, equiv. to hara  belly (earlier fara  < *para ) + kiri  cut
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.
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sep·pu·ku (sěp’ōō-kōō, sě-pōō’-)  
n. Ritual suicide by disembowelment formerly practiced by Japanese samurai. Also called hara-kiri .

[Japanese : setsu , to cut  (from Middle Chinese tshet ) + fuku , stomach, abdomen  (from Middle Chinese fuwk ).]

 
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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