Is 美人 necessarily female?

Hey peoples,

I stumbled over the word 美人 and found that really the only given translation in dictionaries is “beautiful woman”. Also for me 美人 has a very female connotation, with the male equivalent being something like イケメン. Still, I was wondering, since the word in itself does not imply any gender, if the connotation changed over time or if anybody would use it for men as well today. Might be a rather political question, rather than a real Kanji question - still I thought its an interesting one. :slight_smile:

PS: I personally added the translation “beauty” (and “beautiful person”) to my vocabulary - would that be an option to add it to the official WaniKani translations, or at least as an exception? What do you people think about that?

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I had the same thought, since 人 is (seemingly) gender neutral. However, after looking around for a bit, it seems like 美人 is used solely for woman. Wikipedia says this:
男性に対して用いる際は美男子(未成年者は美少年)という。
“When used for men, it is called 美男子 (or 美少年 for minors).”

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It’s always been used to refer to women when I saw it in use, never men - even WaniKani explains this. So, while the synonym “Beautiful Person” is technically correct, I don’t think it would ever be translated as that. I would suggest removing that translation as a synonym, if it won’t hinder you that is.

Think of using the term “beauty” as a noun in English. While there is no etymology trace of it being gendered, it would be stange to hear it used to refer to men.

“She is a beauty” - sounds natural

“He is a beauty” - doesn’t sound right

It’s just the same thing here.

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I’d suspect it’s much the same case, as Japan, much like many other societies, has heavily gendered its language. While 人 may be gender neutral, the idea of “beauty” has historically been one attributed to women and synonymous with “refined” or “graceful”, similar to western society.

For English-speaking lexicology, this short article gives a quick rundown on the gendered connotations of “handsome” - https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/02/handsome.html

Chinese uses the same characters to denote the concept of the ideal woman at court, where something like a garden “was seen as a feminine space” - https://books.google.com/books?id=doJ1DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=美人+women+gendered&source=bl&ots=eZBk-e_Pt2&sig=ACfU3U3Rc5Z3_I5WAXDXeEPF_1D6vlBRRA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwid7Y7BhofqAhWNtJ4KHSKGD7sQ6AEwAXoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=美人%20women%20gendered&f=false

heck yeah language and culture history

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doesn’t actually sound that strange to me tbh. But I am also not an English native. At least it would sound like a good compromise?

I mean I know where this is coming from, I was just wondering if anybody who is fluent in Japanese has some feeling about it, just like with the “beauty” example. I mean I also heard women using 俺 these days, so I am just wondering if the view changed in recent years, as in if there had been any progress. I can understand the classic view and all this old idea(l)s of soft = female, and strong = male, which can also be an explanation why the dictionary gives only a single translation. Yet it doesn’t mean the that the contemporary view / use of words cannot be more “flexible”. :slight_smile:

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Did some quick looking and much like in other modern societies, people are aware of the gendered language phenomenon and are making strides towards changing those stereotypes!

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If you’re talking about a horse, it might work :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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It makes me cringe a little, but people do say “He is beautiful” around London at least. “He is a beauty” definitely sounds like your talking about an animal or a car or something though…

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The phrase has a long history. “美人画” was a major sub-genre of 浮世絵 prints.

“She’s a beauty” definitely sounds like you’re admiring a boat or something to me :smiley: I guess nowadays it can sound pretty objectifying, so I don’t really think it’s used that much. Lot’s of old songs with those lyrics, though.

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I also added beautiful person. I realise it may not be in use but it felt wrong to me so there.

Things change all the time, and maybe this word will be used for men as well in a not too distant future.

Regarding the “he’s beautiful” and “he’s a beauty” expressions, they don’t shock me at all. I’m not native but as good as and I’m not shocked by the french equivalent either.

Men and women can be beauties.

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According to weblio:

古くは、男子もさした。

On the other hand, if you used it to mean “beautiful man” you’re probably going to confuse everyone. Dunno, people might even get offended…

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Well, that might depend on the recipient :kissing_heart:

I added the synonym for myself and if I used it for a man who would get offended by such a comment, I’d no doubt be forgiven on account of my terrible japanese!

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Oh yeah, I would never use that language myself, but certainly it wouldn’t sound bizarre, just objectifying, as you mentioned.

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Maybe a better way to say it is that if there is a sentence “There was a beauty that walked by me” the implication, regardless of the speaker’s gender, is that either an attractive woman walked by, or some sort of animal, with the first being assumed in most contexts.

You can say “beautiful man” and that is fine, but the noun referring to a living being can only be used for women or animals. Of course, that statement in of itself is a reason to not use the term. But Pokemon still does, so its not like the usage is dead.

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Well, I doubt I’ll forget it after reading all this thread!

But a woman is a person so I could still talk about a woman and translate it as “she was a beautiful person”, right?

Or you’re Australian :joy: Although in that case it’s probably pejorative.

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I’ve also wondered this. It may be more informative to ask this question to fluent/native Japanese speakers, rather than a forum of language learners tho lol

@saibaneko disclaimer: not fluent, but whenever I’ve seen 美人 translated it’s usually something like “she’s beautiful” not “she’s a beautiful person,” so it becomes an adjective rather than a noun phrase if that makes sense

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On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of translations use ‘a beauty’, ‘beautiful woman’, ‘hottie’, etc. depending on the translator. So, no, it doesn’t become an adjective and cannot be used as such in Japanese.