Horse Squid

How did the kanji for “test” come to be a horse and squid squished together, or 験? It’s certainly memorable, but I don’t think an interspecies classroom is what the original creator had in mind.

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The formation of 験 is 馬 and 僉, which got simplified to 㑒.

僉 is not used in Japanese, but it basically means “all,” not “squid.”

The WaniKani radical is called squid because it visually resembles a squid.

験 is a phono-semantic compound where the radical 馬 lends the meaning, the general category of concepts. One of the original meanings of this kanji was “sign” as in “thing that indicates something.” I would have to do more research into how 馬 is used as a radical, but maybe you can kind of get there just by imagining how people used horses back in the past, though maybe there’s a more straightforward explanation.

僉 was used to indicate the pronunciation of the character, though maybe the “all” meaning could have been incorporated as well. But this is why 験, 険, 剣, 検, and so on, all share the same reading (in this case けん).

Putting an element that represents the meaning together with an element that represents the pronunciation is the most common way that new kanji were formed.

When I get home I can see if my kanji origin dictionary has more information about this character specifically.


Thank you! So in a sense, a test contains “all indicators” of your depth of knowledge on a subject.

I’ve also noticed that reading pattern with some radicals, in that the onyomi is the same or similar for many kanji that rely on a given radical.


Yeah, it’s very common. The one thing that holds it back is that kanji are thousands of years old and Japanese itself has used them for more than a thousand years, so sometimes things that share the same elements don’t have the same reading in modern Japanese. But even in those cases, you can still kind of see how they are similar a lot of the time.


The French wiktionary pages are often including more liberal - yet convincing - interpretations of the kanji origins
an example here


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