Kanji meanings of 挨 and 拶

After consulting WK, wiktionary and Jisho it seems that those Kanji don’t appear in modern Japanese anywhere outside of the word 挨拶.

Yet, on WK we learn the Kanji meanings “push open” and “draw close”, respectively, even though the meaning of “greeting” is not obviously related to the Kanji meanings.

Now, I know WK didn’t invent those Kanji meanings (unlike cough “greenhouse”), because other sources agree. But how come these meanings became attached to the Kanji? Can they still be found in Chinese and/or in slightly older forms of Japanese… or maybe in some personal names? Is it just purely etymological information that is nowadays essentially useless but kept around for tradition? Do Japanese speakers themselves learn those meanings even, and if so, do they remember them decades after graduating from school?


What we think of as the “meaning” of a kanji, Japanese people would think of as the kunyomi. In the case of both 挨 and 拶, their kunyomi are not taught in school.

おす, ひらく for 挨
せまる for 拶

It’s not that strange to run across 表外読み, as they are called, in novels and whatnot. Though in the case of these two kanji, their kunyomi don’t get used much it seems.

Still, if you wanted to take something like the Kanji Kentei level pre-1 or 1 you would need to study all of the readings for jouyou kanji, even the ones not taught in school. If the readings exist at all, they’ve likely been used at some point at time, even if it was hundreds of years ago. That’s the kind of environment you might encounter them in.


That’s interesting, but also not really the same thing, no?

おす for example, could not just be 押す but also 雄. So if Japanese kids only learn Kun readings but not more abstract meanings, it’s not really the same kind of information, I’d think? Unless there is some difference in pitch accent that helps distinguish the words.

Even then, there are examples of Kanji with different meanings but exactly the same reading (including pitch accent), so I assume Japanese people must have a way of talking about meanings more abstractly than just by referencing a reading?

I think you misunderstood my post.

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Ah, yeah, sorry. From my understanding students already know the words and just kind of plug in the kanji, where we as foreigners usually do it backwards. So students usually don’t learn it that way.

Sure, you can use a kanji dictionary to drill down on all the fine details. They have sections labeled 意味 which I imagine you’ve seen? It sounded like you wanted to know what Japanese speakers think when they see or learn the kanji.

Japanese people would not necessarily be able to do it off the top of their head.

Even then, what Japanese people visualize is not terribly different from saying “push” for two kanji. Loads of kanji are listed with exactly the same English glosses.

There’s always more info you can expand upon.

If you did just want to read a monolingual kanji dictionary, a good free one is kanjipedia.jp


I like to use Wiktionary for questions like these (it’s probably not the best resource, but it’s in English and easy to use). You can also look at the individual kanji to see how they’re used in Chinese.

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So, to summarise:

Most Japanese people would just remember “these are the Kanji for 挨拶”? And people who have done the higher-level Kanken would also know the kunyomi that you mentioned?


For these particular kanji, that does roughly describe the situation.


Oops. Though I do think Wiktionary answers some of the questions from the OP.

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