Let's Share! Radicals 🐟🐠🐡

When talking about radicals, the same two themes keep on popping up:

a) WaniKani doesn’t use the standard radicals, as found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kanji_radicals_by_stroke_count

b) Wanikani radicals are rubbish. (I don’t agree, I’m only making an observation.)

While going through my radical lessons at the start of each level, I have to marvel at the sheer amount of work that has gone into creating the matrix of information for this service. It’s so impressive to me how I can learn a new radical and think to myself, “How in the world are they ever going to weave this into some kind of story to help me learn kanji?” And yet, they do.

Still, there are some radicals that just won’t stick. During level 6, Fish Tail became my Achilles heel. Whenever this radical would come up, I would cringe. Even when I remembered what it was supposed to be, it managed to auto-trigger an eye roll from me. I just didn’t like it. The way I don’t like olives.

But then something amazing happened. Reading through an unrelated thread a few weeks ago, someone mentioned in passing that they liked to use the meaning “fire” instead of “fish tail” because it was more relevant to many of the meanings of kanji that use it, and, well, it looks like fire. See kanji: heat, violent, illuminate, char, boil. I know that the official radical is fire, but that wasn’t the intent here. The suggestion was made from a place of, “This alternative radical meaning helped me learn the related kanji.” Because somewhere out there, I have a friend who just… doesn’t like fish tail either.

So I added “fire” and “camp fire” as an alternative meaning, and added a note with a cute anecdote about it looking like a camp fire. And now, life is better. When I unlock kanji using this radical, I’ll see if I need to add a note editing the mnemonic, of which I use pretty consistently.

Now for my purpose here: I’m sure there are people out there like me who are just bothered by a radical or two. Likewise, I’m sure that there are people out there who have taken a look at a radical and the kanji that use it and thought, “This would serve me better if it were ___.” Regardless of where that fill in the blank came from, I’d love to hear it. Together, let’s destroy all of the fish tails of the world.


This. I was about to mention this precise point in that other complaining-about-radicals thread, but reconsidered. There’s piles of radicals that frequently lend their meaning to the kanji which use them, but since WaniKani gives them a different name, that meaning gets lost.


Definitely share the same sentiment. For a good portion of the radicals, I’ll look up which kanji they’re used in and dry to glean some meaning out of that. Not entirely sure why, but the “made-up” readings just don’t stick for me as well as they do for others. I can definitely understand the reason behind why the devs made it that way though; it’s a lot easier to make vivid stories out of longcats and ents as opposed to good luck and bundles.


Yeah, seriously. I think of Sauron watching me every time I buy something, now. Note: I still spend too much money.


And I have a secret crush on Ken the squid :joy:

WK misses the chance to teach the actual way kanji are constructed, and instead it chooses to turn everything into a “story of radicals”. This is good in the beginning, but my opinion is that WK should switch gears around level 20 and highlight the way a kanji is composed instead.

For example, the fish stick 忄 is a small-scale version of the heart 心. When it appears in a composition it shows that the resulting kanji is related to feelings. 情(feeling) = 心+青, 恨(grudge), 悩(worry), 憤(resent), 悼(grief), 憎(hate), many of the kanji are related to feelings. Having some weird tale of how a fish stick is involved might be a good mnemonic, but sometimes the time for mnemonics is just over.

The pelican actually comes from two sources, 示 and 衣 (one more small stroke is preserved when you look closely). As 示 it shows something holy/auspicious, 社(shrine), 祖(ancestor), 禍(evil). As 衣 it is related to cloth, like 裸(naked), 襟(collar).

It is of course not always that straight-forward [初(first) = 衣+刀 -> first step to make clothes is to cut some cloth?], but most of the time it is much easier to remember kanji and distinguish similar kanji with different “real radicals” when you look at it with a “concept category” perspective.

WK could do a better job, but they got many things right in the beginning. You can reach level 60 with what is already there, but of course the more you know the better, you can make your life much easier still.


This is something I also often thought, as I went through the levels.

However, recently, I have begun to think maybe there is a sound reason for the “weird” radical names and explanations.

The idiosyncratic and arbitrary radical names are far more concrete than the actual meaning of the radicals, and the weird stories that you get are therefore usually very specific, and easier to remember than they would be if you relied on the actual meanings of the radicals.

This is the case for fish stick, rather than feelings. It is also the case for “nailbat” (扌) rather than an abbreviated version of hand (手), “tsunami” (氵) rather than an abbreviated version of water (水), and “leader” (イ) rather than an abbreviated version of person (人).

The resulting stories are weird, arbitrary, and silly. But they are also (often) specific and concrete. I think this makes them more memorable. And this only becomes more important as one progresses further, and more and more kanji appear that are visually quite similar to those that have come before.

So perhaps the Crabigator knows best after all.


I was defending the nailbat and tsunami in the past, it is a more memorable version of what is actually shown. For example the hand often shows that something is done to something else, with a nailbat you just do it a bit more violently.

I’m rather arguing for adding more pathways to memorize stuff, the “crazy stuff” also gets old on its own, like “What was Ken from Steetfighter doing with the geoduck in the circus again?” (Basically you tolerance for silly increases, after level 30 I wasn’t shocked no matter how much poop was thrown :slight_smile:)

For example, I find the following way less headache inducing and often skip over the mnemonics: What was 祖 again? We have something holy, 且 means it is probably read as そ. I remember the vocab せんぞ, ancestor, probably 先祖, so … I remember everything including how to write it. If I would mess around with pelicans and top hats I would struggle to remember what that nonsense story was about again.

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Yes, I certainly see your point, particularly regarding nailbat and tsunami.

Where I ran into trouble, particularly trying to use “feeling” instead of fish stick, was with kanji like 恨 and 悔. I found the mnemonics I created were too abstract, and did not stick. I am still suffering the effects of this with these kanji.

Although looking up 恨 now, the “good” radical (艮) also appears to be a conflation of two distinct radicals: one with a dash at the top (which by itself is identical to the “good” kanji) and the other without. The one with the dash at the top does mean good, but the one without the dash apparently means “stop and stare” or “turn around and stare”. So perhaps it would be best to maintain this distinction, and then perhaps the distracted boyfriend meme would be a good visual mnemonic for grudge.


I admit that I also have some troubles with the scorn, neglect, yearn, despise, etc. variety at the end :slight_smile: If the fish stick would appear only once it would be OK, weird and silly, but after the tenth time it doesn’t introduce more “feeling” into me than just remembering feeling. Honestly I was taking a bit of a mental break from WK at the end (around level 55) and didn’t really learn the kanji properly.

How about this:
恨 shares the component 艮 with 根, so I try to come up with some feeling when I see Daikon radish (somehow some vocab is very iconic to me and helps me remember the kanji instead of the other way around). So I need a story where I have a grudge because someone force-fed me tons of Daikon. I can recall it with “こん -> daikon feeling, grudge!”.

悔 has 毎 as phonetic, somehow 梅 Ume doesn’t really help me, so I need something with “every”. “Every feeling”? Not that great … Super-specific, but this reminds me of the Nameless One in Planescape Torment who can also only feel regret, so this is the best I can get. Better than “every fishstick”, anyways :slight_smile:

The KKLD uses “boy” and “good boy”, and the “boy” is usually suffering a lot, so a grudge comes naturally to him :wink:

In the end, I agree with you that the radicals are good, but their benefits are diminishing, and WK ends up a bit too “dogmatic” for me. At some point you have “a web of kanji” that can catch other ones.

Another important point is that if you know that 忄 is heart, then if you see an unknown kanji in the wild using that radical, you at least know that it probably has to do with feelings. (As an aside, I forgot that 忄 was the small heart radical, so thanks for the reminder!)

@anon20839864, I know you have been working long and hard on the overhaul of the radicals. Can you comment on if the new system will do more with kanji components that have phonetic or semantic meaning?

If you’d like to look into how the radicals fit into kanji, this website (which is also obtainable in book form) is worth a look:
The book is called 中文字譜 or Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary. (ISBN 978-0-966-07500-7) In my opinion it is more user-friendly than the website. At any rate, unlike many Chinese-based productions, it includes full-form characters as well as simplified ones, and that tends to be a guarantee of accurate scholarship. (Kanji tends to be a bit of a mixture of both.)

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Oh neat, this sounds like a cool read!

The terrible radical names almost make me want to quit WK, but at least I can override them with my own names.

The worst part is that if you try to (for example) type “mother” for 母, or “task” for 用, it’s marked as wrong because it’s not their nonsense radical definitions!

I can manually add the real definitions for each radical, but there is no excuse for this to not be default behavior.


Haha I honestly think the weird radical names are part of the charm of the site. It’s just one of those “you can’t please everyone” scenarios, it seems.

I do exactly as you do - I think that would be my default suggestion for this thread, too. As soon as I learn a radical, the first thing I do is check to see if it has a matching kanji with a different meaning. If so, I add that as an alternative definition.

I can’t really say anything still, sorry! :zipper_mouth_face:



Regardless, I’m super excited to see what you come up with!!! If there were cheerleader/pompom emojis, you’d get a thousand of them right now. :sparkles::confetti_ball::confetti_ball::confetti_ball::sparkles:

I’m still very new to WK, but I’ve found this topic an interesting read. Part of what really drew me to learning kanji in the first place is that the system of radicals and kanji composition is pretty fascinating to me from a linguistics perspective.

Knowing that, it’s a bit disappointing to know that the things I’m going to be learning are going to continue to be somewhat made-up and non-traditional. I’m fine with using the names and mnemonics and stuff as a learning tool, but I would still really love to see more of the actual, traditional kanji composition. It would be nice to be able to see and compare both, especially since it might make the memorizing process more fun and interesting (at least to me).

Those of you who are more familiar with kanji composition, do you have a source that you would recommend as a secondary reference for kanji/radicals for that more traditional linguistic perspective? Outside of copy/pasting the kanji into google, I’m not sure where I’d start looking myself.


This might not be the best resource out there, but I really love jisho.org for what you’re talking about. You can look up any vocab/kanji, and it will give you a breakdown of the meaning, stroke order, use, JLPT level, etc. And, under the kanji itself, you can see “Parts.” If I’m not mistaken (I’m not super savvy with actual non-wanikani radicals, tbh), that is all of the radicals used to make the kanji. You can click them to see the meaning and if that can be further broken down into more simple-form radicals. In my opinion, they’re the best resource for all-around meaning and look-up of specific words/kanji. Hope this helps!