Biggest Realizations / Mind Blows You've Experienced Learning Japanese: Emoji means what?!?!

Just read this entire thread and I am shook

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I had a similar realization! I was just learning some new Japanese verbs when I came across お腹が空る And 喉が渇く. Which mean to be hungry and to be thirsty.

I looked deeper into it and researched the kanji for both, お腹 means stomach and 空 means emptiness! Makes total sense.

as for the verb to be thirsty, 喉 means throat and 渇 Means dry;thirst! It really makes you realize how most compound and Singular kanji have valid reasons for being written the way they are.

I think one of the biggest for me has been how words that could be treated as conjugated forms of the same root can be spelled using different kanji, thereby obfuscating the etymology. This makes perfect sense, seeing as how the evolution of the writing system is closely tied to Chinese, but it still hit me like a brick when I realized it, because I had this neat understanding that in Japanese, kanji are invariant and only the okurigana vary under conjugations.

One of the big ones for me was こおる (freeze) and こおり (ice). こおり is the ren’yōkei form (a.k.a. masu-stem or continuative form) of こおる, but they are spelled completely differently; 氷 doesn’t even have okurigana!

Actually, it’s probably wrong to think of them as the same words anymore; the words are cognates, and the etymology , the grammatical link between the two words has been severed, and both words have lexicalized as separate concepts, like speciation in biological evolution. Over time, they might diverge from each other in pronunciation as well, so that future generations won’t easily recognize the words as being related.

After noticing a few similar examples, it’s become standard procedure for me to try nominalizing and de-nominalizing new vocabulary that I learn. Sometimes it’s straightforward, like:

網・あみ・net, web, weave - Ren’yōkei of 編む (to weave).

畳・たたみ・tatami mat - Ren’yōkei of 畳む (to fold). This one has kept the same kanji for both concepts; perhaps this is because tatami are a uniquely Japanese thing (meaning there wouldn’t be separate hanzi for it), or because the word became lexicalized long after the large language exchanges that brought hanzi to Japan.

秤・はかり・scale - Ren’yōkei of 量る (weigh), which in turn is basically the same word as 計る (measure time) and 測る (measuring distance/dimension), although they have separate kanji.

Sometimes, you have to undo some ateji and use some lesser-known (and sometimes archaic) conjugations:

旨味・うまみ・umami, savoriness, deliciousness - Although the kanji suggest this might be a kun+on compound of tasty+flavor, it can also be analyzed as the nominalized form of 旨い, using the suffix み (c.f. 甘み (sweetness), 温かみ (warmth), 痛み (pain), 重み (weight)).

寿司・すし・sushi - Originally the terminal form of 酸い (sour). Back in those days, adjectives had distinct attributive forms and terminal forms, i.e. you have to change the suffix depending on if you’re modifying a noun (酸い肉) or forming a predicate (肉は酸いです), much as one still does with na-adjectives.
To make matters worse, the word is spelled with ateji; the kanji reflect the word’s pronunciation, but not its meaning.

Sometimes, you have to break up a compound:

湖・みずうみ・lake - Literally 水+海, “water+sea”. Don’t ask me why that description fits a lake better than other bodies of water, but that’s what people decided on, apparently.

導く・みちびく・to lead - Combination of 道 (road) and (to pull). The ひ of 引く has been rendaku’d into び, and the words have combined into one kanji.

Sometimes, the related words have mutated or fallen out of use:

鎖・くさり・chain - Related to the verb 鎖る (to attach), but that word doesn’t seem to get used much, except as a footnote in dictionaries.

薬・くすり・medicine - Believed to be related to a verb くする (to have a mysterious effect), but this word doesn’t appear to be attested; it just seems like it should exist, for the sake of completeness, and it may have existed at one point.
It is also believed to be cognate with the na-adjective 奇し (mystical).

鏡・かがみ・mirror - From 影 (shadow) + 見 (ren’yōkei of 見る, to see) ~ seeing shadows, shadow-seeing thing. The noun かが has mutated into かげ, but its historical form has been fossilized within this compound.

None of this is rocket science (and to be honest, my research usually only extends to looking words up on Wiktionary), but just as learning kanji allows you to analyze and make educated guesses about new kango compounds, learning different Japanese conjugations and sound changes allows you to analyze and discover unfamiliar yamato kotoba.


Very interesting!

I recently noticed 鋏•挟む and 次•次ぐ
Though 挟む doesn’t mean ‘to cut’ per se, scissors do work by putting something between the two blades (as opposed to knives).

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I don’t think the word was always pronounced かが and then changed, I think just for compound words, sometimes the pronunciation shifted from え to あ.
See words like 船酔い, 上着, 雨具. Those are all usually pronounced with an え sound on their own that turns into あ in these compounds.


There is a nice topic on Wanikani here, if you know some that are not listed you should add them ! (It’s a wiki)

I also recommend to check goo and gogen for more cool information about etymology. These are in Japanese so sometimes the explanation are too difficult, but google translate works relatively well.

For example
旨味 : according to goo it’s not a kun+on compound, the mi part is clearly a suffix + ateji (「み」は接尾語)
湖 : according to gogen it’s because originally うみ meant a huge place filled with water (not only the sea), and there was a difference between 塩海, salty umi, the sea, and 水海, fresh umi, lake.


Ah, you would appear to be right; I was too hasty there. I see that Wiktionary lists it as " ancient combining form of 影 (kage)", which sounds like a description of coarticulation.

Ah, yes, I see I started writing a reply there but never posted it :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve never used wiki posts on WK, but I’ll check it out!

Thanks for the tips! I’ve been using Gogen a fair bit, but not goo (although I think I’ve seen it turning up in my search results).

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Maybe this is common knowledge, but I don’t read a lot of fiction to begin with, and thus don’t see this word a ton… But the original meaning of くノ一 (くのいち female ninja) was just a slang for “woman.” Because if you write 女, the shapes you make, in the correct order, are くノ一…


Well, I studied Japanese history in college and we of course learned about the Alternate Attendance System in the Edo period, and they even taught us the Japanese (Sankin Kotai). The other day I was reading a Japanese history book and the characters 参勤交代 came up when talking about Edo period policies. Because I had learned those kanji through wanikani I immediately knew how to read them, but only after sounding it out in my head did I realize that it was the kanji for the Sankin Kotai that I learned about way back when.

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Oh! I recently watched a Detective Conan episode where they were practicing Kanji in the classroom, and I think they used something like that as mnemonic… Which now makes me wonder whether this is really a thing? (i.e. do Japanese schoolchildren use this to learn Kanji?) And are there more of those mnemonics around?


There probably are more things like that here and there. I’ve only sat in on one kokugo lesson where new kanji were taught. The kids were learning 刻 and 忠 IIRC, and so they started by spending a while talking about what the respective radicals for those kanji mean and listing other kanji that contain the radicals. This is basically what we do here, but in a more analytical way.


When after hearing people in the office say "行ってきます” and not really understanding the くる part, until one day sitting in Japanese class, the teacher explains it and breaks it down, 行って i’m going…くる but I’ll return (at some later point), 行ってくる. Mind blown!


Various Japanese radical names that are probably obvious but I failed to think about.

私 - のぎへん, because it’s a katakana ノ on top of a 木
釈 - のごめへん, because it’s a ノon a 米
教 - のぶん, because it’s like ノ and 文 together


Couple more…when hearing the automated voices when the doors opening in lifts for a whole year in Japan and then studying the formal forms years later and being like “oh they were just saying ‘doors opening’ formally”. This is very true for a lot of polite Japanese when you are still a beginner and get around to learning formal Japanese. Also only reading the newspapers omit particles in headlines, so that’s probably like every time I read a newspaper headline in Japan I was always scratching my head with confusion like “this is not grammatically correct” lol. Also, not all compositions written about the past, don’t always use past-tense grammar for verbs, writers often switch to present forms (called ‘form switching’) to differentiate between scenes and/or chronological events. Form switching can also be used in conversation to coerce or persuade someone.


mind = blown!

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Japanese love little memorization tricks like this. For instance, I used to live in Kamakura. Japanese all know that the Kamakura Bakufu was founded in 1192, because 「いい国(1192年)作ろう、鎌倉幕府」。


I’ve actually known this for longer than I’ve studied Japanese, for some reason…

For real! I’m finding this with some single kanji 訓読み verbs with a long reading, as well as nouns.

A nifty recent one was 滞る (とどこおる) = とど(く)- + こおる = “a frozen delivery” = actually means “to be overdue”… - whether or not it’s a proper etymology, it’s a lot easier to remember that way! :slight_smile:


The とど is from 留まる (とどまる), but it might not help if you haven’t learned that one yet.

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Not yet but I have now! Thanks! :slight_smile:

Neat how todom(aru/eru) ends up meaning “stop” but todok(u/eru) ends up meaning “deliver” with that common semantic notion of a thing in motion entering a state of non-motion… or the other way around… almost a little too neat to be a coincidence…

(mmm… ancestor morphemes…)