笑い - laugh or smile?


#1

WaniKani only has the definition for laugh. But jisho says both laugh and smile. I want to add the synonym for smile, but I want to make sure it’s accurate first.

Here’s what dictionary.goo.ne.jp says:

笑い: 笑うこと。また、その声。えみ。

笑う:喜び・うれしさ・おかしさ・照れくささなどの気持ちから、顔の表情をくずす。また、そうした気持ちで声を立てる。

えみ seems to mean smile. And the first part of the definition for 笑う is talking about your facial expression changing from pleasure, amusement, embarrassment, etc.

Based on this it seems like smile is a perfectly valid definition. Am I missing anything?


#2

It’s both. Only distinguished by context.

However, for smiling, it’s also very common to see and hear the phrase 笑顔 (えがお), a noun and -suru verb which literally means “smiling face.”


#3

My understanding based how I’ve heard it used personally is that 笑顔 is the go-to word if you want to refer to specific occurrence of a smile. This is also why this is the word that turns to a する verb. If a young child gets the present they wanted from Santa Claus, you’ll see an 笑顔.

笑み is referring to the facial expression itself, and I think can encompass any kind of smile. I have the least confidence about this one, especially since the kanji on its own 笑 is essentially the slang for “lol” and is verbalized 笑み. I think, however, the slang meaning only occurs when you use that term alone, rather than in a sentence. I’ll have to ask a coworker/friend when I get the chance.

笑い is usually laughter, but I’ve definitely heard it used to refer to a smile at someone else’s expense, such as a grin, sneer, or smirk. I guess the context is that your facial expression might as well be laughing even if you aren’t actually making any sound. I am a fairly reserved person, but I’m fairly weak to bouts of amusement, so most of the time, if I find something funny, I hold back my laughter into an amused smile. My students will usually always point to me use 笑い.

EDIT: I asked two coworkers who were free. Both stated that 笑顔 referred specifically to the action of smiling, 笑み refers to 表情 (facial expression), and that 笑い only refers to vocal response and therefore strictly laughter. Only one of the two (who is also the only computer-savvy Japanese person at my workplace) knew about the slang use of 笑(えみ). So there’s a limited look into the natives’ opinion on the three words.


#4

This matches my understanding/experiences teaching as well. Should have expanded on that in my first post.


#5

thanks iansacks and EiriMatsu!
I didn’t realise 笑 (lol) is pronounced えみ I always pronounced it わら haha
but I never actually said it out loud to anyone so it’s a bit like a lot of the internetisms.


#6

It can and is also pronounced わら. It’s the reason why Nico videos are so often covered in long strings of “w.” えみ is a variation on it, used more coyly. More like a “tehe-pero” type of response whereas わら is for actual 'bouts of laughter. I only mentioned えみ earlier because 笑み is also a legitimate word whereas わら is just an unmodified kunyomi. I think anime is shoving the えみ usage into more popularity because it steers away from gyaru talk. :laughing:


#7

oh really, that’s pretty interesting thanks :slight_smile:
yeah, i’ve seen www instead of lol
completely didn’t know there was different pronunciation though 笑み


#8

Hm? 笑み can only be pronounced えみ. It’s when the kanji is written alone 笑 that it means “lol.” The kanji’s kunyomi are え and わら, the former being used “inappropriately” with an added み while the more common latter is just the kunyomi alone. 笑み, containing both the kanji and hiragana, has only one pronunication. Sorry for the confusion! :persevere:


#9

oh, no problem, I wanted to add a lol at the end, but failed www


#10

Wait until you find out about 草!


#11

I just got up to the top radical of 草 but it says it’s flower i’m sure I learned it as grass when I was learning Japanese before… I know it’s in 花 but didn’t think anything of it… aha


#12

Some people use 草 (grass) as slang for 笑う because when you type wwwwwww (different slang for 笑う) it looks like grass. I’ve heard people use 大草原 (prairie) for LMAO, too, because so much grass.


#13

that’s great :slight_smile:


#14

I think I understand now. 笑い can mean a smile, but really only in the context of a laugh (or perceived laugh). I guess you’d use 笑顔 when describing something like smiling for a picture.


#15

But do you know about the grass mud horse?


#16

Let me just throw 微笑む in to the mix. A month ago I gave gave a speech in Japanese; during the speech I told a story in which the teacher and the student smiled whenever the student successfully solved a problem. I had a Japanese friend who does a lot of translation work review it. She corrected my text to use the word 微笑んでいました wherever I used the word “smiled”.


#17

They’re very similar, but 笑顔 is more about the entire face while 微笑む is more about the mouth, usually the former is a bigger smile. Google Images is pretty good here. This is 微笑む while this is more 笑顔する


#18

@Syphus Thank you for the additional clarification. I was just about to respond to @thornarm saying that I didn’t see much of a distinction between 笑顔 and 微笑む from the (Japanese) dictionary definition. After doing the google image search I can totally see what you mean, and it’s definitely something I’ll try in the future.