女子 Vs 好, What's going on?

Alright, so this is boggling to me, as I’m very new to Japanese.

The first one is read as じょし and means girl/young woman, while the second as このむ or すく or いい and means pleasing, nice.

Now, as I understand it, the first is a jukugo word, hence the single reading, while the second is a kanji on its own, EVEN though they are both composed of the exact same seperate kanji? Am I right? It’s very confusing for newbies…

And how come the kanji for young woman/girl are also used for something so conceptually different as the word for pleasing? Does it have to do with women’s gender and social roles and the patriarchal structure of society, which is reflected in the language? Especially back in the day?

Thanks everyone for any insight :grin:


In general, it’s better to not get too hung up on the individual components of one kanji, but to think of each one as a unit. (except when learning how it’s written for the first time, of course)

Once you’ve internalized it, and are reading, for example, you definitely won’t see 好 and first think “ah, 女+子, that must be 好”, you’ll just immediately think “好” and the other two kanji won’t even cross your mind.

Also, 好 isn’t composed of the two kanji 女, and 子, rather it’s composed of two components, that happen to both also be used on their own in the kanji 女, and 子
Which might seem like a small distinction! But there’s a lot of reasons a kanji might be made up of particular components, including phonology, and etymology, so you’re going to come across a LOT of kanji that share familiar pieces but don’t have anything obvious to do with each other.

In this case, 好 is a very old and very common character, so why it happens to be written like that is more a question for etymologists than any one else!
If it did ever have something to do with gender roles, it would have been ancient ones. And it doesn’t connote that in modern times.
Here’s a wiktionary link with etymology information. It sounds like scholars think you’re probably right about the guess about the origin! that it has something to do with the pair of women and babies being good.
But we’re talking like, BCE. So for thousands of years, 好 (or its root) has been an independent character.

The equivalent would be like, a word in English with latin roots that meant something different in Latin/when it originally came to English, but is now completely it’s own word, and the origin isn’t noticed by speakers/writers day to day.

Hope that helps!

P.S.: you’re right! 女子 is a word and 好 is a kanji.
It might be hard to believe starting out, but after looking at enough kanji, that small spacing difference that crams 好 into one character will be super obvious!
To the point I forgot to answer your question directly since I forgot 女子 and 好 look at all similar :sweat_smile:


Another note - 好き means like or pleasing, but I’ve always thought of it as a form of love. When someone confesses their love for someone in Japanese, they don’t actually say 愛してる (as in “I love you”) they say 好き (as in “I like you”).

So it always made sense to me that the kanji for “like/love” (好) was composed of a woman and (her) child, because that’s a form of love.


Just out of curiosity, what are you imagining as “back in the day”? Because Chinese characters have existed for thousands of years. The origin of 好 is thought to be a depiction of a mother and child (though other hypotheses exist) with the meaning of “beautiful” or “joyous.” See the image below. This transitioned to the more modern meaning of “preferable” or “good” over time, because beautiful and joyous things are preferable and good, not anything specifically about girls and women. I’m not sure exactly what you meant by gender and social roles being involved.

As mentioned with the other hypotheses existing, it has also been proposed to originally have been a boy and a girl or a man and a woman, offering different possible interpretations of the configuration. I’m not sure how accepted those ideas are though.


I haven’t made any research on that, so I can’t be more exact when I say “back in the day”, but I had in mind that women were generally supposed to be obedient and satisfy their fathers/husbands and bear children, in various circumstances preferably boys (e.g. you may have heard of the abandonment or killing of female infants in China).

I had in mind other examples of gender aspects transforming into language, such as the word for hysteria, which comes from the Greek word υστέρα/hystéra, meaning uterus, as it was since the antiquity believed that the condition affected only women due to their uteruses moving around in their body.

But in any case, I simply expressed an idea that I wondered about, getting back to my original question about 好’s etymology. Is there something about it that you’d like to converse further?

I’ve heard many things. Very few of them are true.

Also, what you’re referring to is rumours following the introduction of the one child policy. That was 1980. Kanji began to be codified in the year 1200. BC.


I think it’s a very common notion when one starts learning Japanese that the individual parts of a kanji can be taken together to form the meaning.

This is only rarely the case.

As in the example above it’s sometimes just the result of the disparate original characters evolving over time into a set of preexisting components.

And among those that are purposefully composed of preexisting characters, the most common usage is for one to convey meaning and the other simply being used phonetically, like 時 (time) = meaning related to 日 (sun), sounds like 寺 (じ).


It helps to look at some (many? all?) kanji as a single unit of meaning rather than the parts that construct it. 好 is just a combination of two radicals where 女子 is a word constructed of two kanji which also happen to be radicals.
Also, If it did come from some patriarchal norms in the before time, in the long-long ago, it would probably have come from patriarchal norms during the time of its construction in ancient Chinese oracle bone script or in its subsequent years of refinement from that script. We are talking about possibly 5 to 7 thousand years ago. It also makes sense if you look at as “woman and child = good (in Chinese).” Really, you’d be looking at Tang Dynasty patriarchy if you want to dig into it. Good read, too. The Tang Dynasty owned.


Lol, my Chinese wife just reamed me out for this post. In Chinese 女 means both “girl” and “daughter” 子 means both “boy” and “son”. Chinese society is super family-focused so if you throw those two together, you can interpret it as “(having) daughter+son=good”

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I did not mean to temporally or otherwise connect the formation of the Kanji to China’s one-child policy or modern attitudes in general. I simply touched upon the issue of male-preference (I’m generalising too much here, of course) that still holds true for China (and other countries, for sure), to indicate why I thought that an even stronger male preference could have shaped the language all that time ago. To my knowledge, China has an abnormal sex ratio favouring males in the general population. Hence, if the (at any significant degree) rejection of female children is just rumours, something else has to explain this disparity, at least in tandem with other factors. However, I have not looked into it and I like to refrain from talking about things I haven’t studied.

You could use that theory, but its really just a mnemonic. The “mother” + “child” is definitely the accepted etymology (by most people). Also, this character has been relatively unchanged since its introduction, so you’re looking more at Shang and Zhou dynasties here

@crihak I think the “issue” is that a lot of the basic characters that are first learned are pictograms, and even though they make up a small minority of characters. But on the other hand, 好 is still an ideogram, so the problem isn’t that OP assumed the individual parts have meaning, cause they do, the problem is just they did it in an incorrect way.


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