Kanji That Have Different Meanings Than Their Vocabulary?

I have noticed quite a few kanjis have pretty different meanings than all of their vocabulary. I get that not all vocabulary of every single kanji can be included, but it seems strange to exclude their primer meaning. Let me try to explain this with a couple examples.
The kanji 冗 has the meaning “superfluous / unnecessary”. However, the only vocabulary it has on WaniKani is 冗談, which means “joke”. It seems very strange for me that the only vocabulary included is something quite different from its kanji meaning. Why would not the kanji 冗 itself then have the meaning “joke”? After some research it looks like 冗長 means something close to “superfluous / unnecessary”, so that is probably why the kanji has that meaning. I can understand that this vocabulary is probably pretty rare and not among the top 6500 most frequent vocabs, but it seems strange to exclude the main meaning.
Another example, 課, means “section”, and the only vocabulary available is 課長, which is section manager (fair enough). However, after starting to read up on grammar, it seems like the kanji 課 alone just means section, something like 〜課 means section (or something, it is not in WaniKani so I havent learned it yet). Why is not this included as a vocabulary? Since single-kanji vocabulary can have different meanings from their kanji, I find it completely necessary to include it as a vocabulary in order for me to understand that can be used that way. I would also guess that this meaning is pretty frequent.
Thank you for any input on this topic. I tried to explain myself as good as I managed, but I understand if it was not so clear. Please just ask if you did not understand what I meant.

冗談 isn’t merely composed of 冗 though… the 冗 modifies 談. It’s “superfluous / unnecessary talk” which works out to mean “joke.”

The meaning in 冗長 actually isn’t “superfluous” according to my kanji dictionary. It’s わずらわしい (troublesome, annoying).

Here you can see a Japanese kanji dictionary entry with the meanings. The kanji never means “joke” all on its own, so it doesn’t have that listed.



Ok, fair enough, but there are plenty of other examples as well. Firstly, why would not 課 have the vocabulary for “section” as I also mentioned? And 勉, meaning “exertion”, only has the “studies” and “to study” vocabulary. I get that these are the most common ones, but why arent there vocabulary that includes the meaning “exertion”? It seems meaningless to learn the kanji meaning when the vocabulary do not share the meanings.

They occasionally add more words. I doubt there’s a single kanji on the site that you couldn’t make an argument for adding various words… but then people would have even more vocab items to work through.

The main focus on WaniKani is reading (literally pronouncing) the kanji in words, so knowing 勉 is べん and the main words you’ll see it in are 99% of what you need to know about it.

The way that 勉強 came to mean “studies” in the first place is its own story.


Thanks, I suppose the answer for my topic is that there is always more vocabs to add. It just seemed like the way the vocabulary was chosen was kind of strange at some points, especially with 課.


Btw, have you reset your WaniKani level? Are you going through it again?

Yeah, I’m incorporating pitch accent. If I get pitch accent wrong I mark it wrong.

Is that an add-on or do you just controll it on your own?

Just on my own.


Getting back to the topic though, the nature of WaniKani does mean that occasionally you’ll see usages of kanji that don’t match the keyword you learned. Just because… there can be lots of meanings for one kanji. I don’t think it’s reasonable, or expected, for people to keep track of all of those meanings right off the bat, especially when they aren’t synonyms of each other.

Like 額 has the meanings of “amount,” “framed picture,” and “forehead.”

The forehead meaning isn’t used that much in everyday speech. It also has the weird thing of changing its reading depending on which meaning it is, がく for amount and framed picture, and ひたい for forehead. They currently just ignore that whole headache and don’t include the forehead vocab.

And if you’re wondering what people say for forehead in everyday speech, it’s おでこ (usually written in kana). ひたい would be more like what the surgeon would say for “I’m going to make an incision in the forehead” or something. Though it does also appear in some interesting expressions, like ねこのひたい.


It is used a lot in writing though. From literally 5 minutes ago (plus the time it took me to finding how to edit the picture on my phone):

1 Like

That will definitely be a main theme of your studies. No matter how much you’ve studied there’s always going to be something you encounter that has new words to learn. :sweat_smile:


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.