Confused about Radicals?

I’m at the point where I need to decide if I want to pay to keep using WaniKani. I’m an fairly advanced Japanese student (passed N2 a while ago, but have no interest in taking N1), so everything so far is very basic, which is fine. I knew that would be the case, that’s not the problem.

My problem is the “poop” radical. WaniKani makes up a lot of kanji components into radicals, and gives them strange names, which is whatever, since I just add synonyms for things like “narwhal” which is hard to spell, but why lie about a radical that has an actual meaning? It’s the thread radical. It’s used in a lot of kanji that “tie things together” so to speak. Like thread. I’m not offended by the word poop–I love a good poop joke as much as the next person–it’s just that this radical has an actual meaning, and remembering the actual meaning in relation to kanji is better than some weird forced mnemonic?

I want to keep studying with WaniKani because my weakness lies in remembering readings for kanji, but I’m not sure I want to give my money to a company that touts remembering radicals but doesn’t seem to care about lying about the meanings of ones they didn’t make up. Does anyone else have this issue?

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You can always make synonyms for the answers if that specific radical name doesn’t work for you. However those radical names will help build other kanji for you, otherwise every single kanji needs a new mnemonic.

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Right, and I do use synonyms. I just don’t understand how “poop” is better than “thread” especially when mnemonics can be used to help remember the meanings of the kanji, too. It’s not like the kanji it’s used in have anything to do with poop.

When you get farther, the mnemonics that WK use for kanji that involve that radical have them relate to it being used as “poop” so if you memorize the mnemonic and name a different way those mnemonics later on might not be as helpful.

I think they mostly use poop for those who have no experience in the language, and also so you can have a very strong mental image, whether it be funny, annoyed, or confused, its a strong reaction and helps retain the memory longer than “thread” for those who have no background


The “narwhal” element has a meaning too, it usually represents a hand.

The names of the radicals are primarily in service of making the mnemonics memorable and different from each other. There’s another item called “hand” (手) so calling ナ hand as well would be confusing, even if it’s literally a hand.

The radical called thread is 糸. So, sure, they could have called the one you’re referring to “small thread” but they went with something that they felt would be more memorable.

They do respond to feedback, and have changed some names to be closer to their meanings, but the site is always going to have a bit of this aspect to it. They aren’t intending to teach the dictionary radicals or build mnemonics on strict accuracy. They like making funny stories when they can. They’re also pretty clear about this in the FAQ, so I personally wouldn’t call it “lying.”

If it’s something you dislike about the site, then I guess it’s best to recognize it now while in the free trial.


I just cheat the radicals and don’t read the mnemonics, problem solved.

Yeah, I get that, and the radical they call “fingers” is also a form of hand, so I do understand the distinction. I also don’t mind funny stories for those who need it. Mnemonics can be used as a very strong form of memory attachment.

But given that this is one of the best resources for studying kanji, I wish it were a little more serious about radical association? Since they matter so much for meaning and also reading as you get further into kanji study. That may be too much for WaniKani’s scope, but, like, it has 60 whole levels.

Lying was also probably too strong of a word.

You right. I just do actually use radicals a lot in looking up words and relating kanji to each other, so the radical portion of WaniKani really does bother me.

For me, WaniKani was something that got me on track for studying kanji and kept me focused. I finished using the site regularly years ago (later resetting because I like having a lower level number) and I honestly could not tell you hardly any mnemonics anymore, because they served the purpose of jump-starting my kanji knowledge enough that I could transition to reading and self-study, and then left my brain.

So one way to look at it is, when you’re done you probably won’t have these “fake” names cluttering your head. But if the act of getting through it in the first place bothers you too much, then it may not be worth it.

I was personally interested in a more in-depth view of kanji composition and so I studied that as well, but I appreciated WaniKani for scaffolding things for me.


I’m not planning on using the mnemonics, though I read through some of them (“the narwhal sitting on the stool is your friend” is just very cute imagery), as I’ve gotten this far without needing them for meanings. I’m just awful at self study, so WaniKani’s schedule system is amazing, and the vocab and kanji study itself is fine…it’s just the radicals.

Not sure if I’m allowed to ask it here, but do you have any good resources for kanji composition study? I’m fluent enough to read most manga without furigana (though I, again, don’t know the readings for many of the kanji, just meanings, unless it’s too technical), but I have a lot of novels that I want to read and am having trouble finding the motivation to really up my kanji skill.


but its much more impactful to imagine if there poop on someone’s head than a thread. To each their own there I guess though. :poop:

For simple breakdowns, you can use something like Wiktionary. Each page for a kanji has a line showing the composition and also the category of composition. If there’s something worth commenting on, they might give a bit more info.

I also have some kanji composition books in Japanese, but if native materials are a bit too much now they might not be so helpful.

Unfortunately, the gap between those two things is pretty wide, but maybe someone else can recommend a more detailed English resource to bridge it.


This problem seems to be brought up quite often but for me, who started from no knowledge of kanji it works great. I don’t even pay much attention to radicals, I just speed through them, and mark them right even if I get them wrong, I only pay attention to the mnemonic they give for kanji/vocab. I soon will forget the radical, but I forget it after I’ve seen the kanji in reviews a few times so by then I don’t really need it anymore. When it shows up again, it tells me the radical composition and it reminds me of it for the duration of that kanji I need to learn. It serves me well, but ultimately sometimes I don’t rely on the mnemonics and I just make some weird connections in my head between the radicals and that gives me the meaning.

But yeah best part of Wanikani is how it does the scheduling for you, couldn’t have gotten this far without it

There is this thing here – A List of WaniKani’s Radical Names vs More Common Radical Names - #2 by Belthazar but reading up fresh in Wiktionary (English version) might easily be more accurate. (There are radical entries too.)

WaniKani is good, at least because of, levels, groups of ten levels; and each levels not too big. They try to do the composition thing, but of course it is far from perfect.

Otherwise, [Userscript] Keisei 形声 Semantic-Phonetic Composition – of course it works even outside reviews.

This simple radical is called “poop” is because the more common thread radical is already called “thread.”
So what do you expect them to call this one? “Thread 2”?

This explains their reasoning for what they do. So it comes down to if you accept this or not.


i came into WK with about a year of self-study under my belt, so i was already familiar with the “proper” name for many radicals. and sometimes it does bother me when WK uses very different radical names.

at least many of them do retain some connection to their original meanings, but still, i find the WK radicals a bit hit or miss. it’s probably the aspect of WK i like least.

still, WK is the best tool for learning kanji which i’ve found so far (and because i’m so far in, i’ll probably not change to any others). if you want to try other platforms before committing (both financially and time-wise) you might want to also have a look at kanji garden.

for me, the decisive factor in favor of WK was the forums/community

I don’t know this for certain, but as @Leebo states, I’d bet good money that WK chose their radical names in order to make mnemonic stories that are as visceral as possible.

There’s plenty of research that proves we remember things that are exaggerated, disgusting, sexual, etc. In particular, the more “virtual” senses we can engage (sight, texture, smell, sound, ugh taste), the easier a story will be to remember.

Using “poop” for いとへん is silly and strange, but makes for far more memorable mnemonics.

I do wish, however, that they would also teach “normal” synonyms for the most common radicals, and accept either as synonyms. [1]

Getting spoon-fed mnemonics (using their radical names) is part of the service we are paying for, but the farther along you get the less important mnemonics become. You learn to recognize related characters and components for both reading and meaning, and, at least in my case, after about level 35 I mostly just brute-force memorize lessons and rely on repetition rather than mnemonics to really memorize things.

The most important service to me is the continual refinement of the content (accepted/denied meanings/readings, what words/characters are included when, etc.). The UI and well thought-out SRS are also more valuable to me than the provided mnemonics. I doubt I’d have stuck it out if I’d have had to provide my own mnemonics in the early days, though.

I’d enthusiastically recommend you continue. What one calls a radical ultimately doesn’t matter. Multiple characters with the same radical often have similar readings, but those readings may have no relationship to the “meaning” you’ve arbitrarily given to a radical.

  1. My pet peeve with radicals is always/only enforcing the “moon” interpretation for 月 — it’s extremely useful to know that it’s also known as にくづきへん when used for parts of the body or other “meat”. It seems silly to force-fit “moon” stories in those cases. ↩︎


I empathize with you, because I had a similar initial reaction to Wanikani. I originally was hoping to learn traditional radicals but was quickly introduced to poop and mullet 广 (now canopy….thank god :roll_eyes: ).

Fast forward through a several year break and a current steady 8 month progress, I have embraced the ways of the :crabigator:

I’m not even mad about that silly zombie “radical”.

So far, the only changes I make is the moon/meat/body @Rrwrex mentioned and to differentiate these two

I feel that it’s important to know the difference, and I like the mnemonics better.

Other than that, it’s all been gravy.


Another common one that knowing the distinction may help is 礻 = 示す / 衤 = 衣.

I don’t feel I have to differentiate left and right 阝 yet.


Yes! Thank you for pointing that one out. Extremely useful!!

And now I can see how 被 can get the meaning “wear”.

So much more to learn.