Long lost readings not to be found but heard nonetheless

Level 2, 下手, heta, unskillful

I looked for the ‘he’ reading for 下 in both WK and Jisho and did not find any alternative readings for the ‘he’ pronunciation. So is there some unknown subterranean basement of alternative readings that aren’t listed in common sources but are raised from those depths in unusual circumstances? Not likely since 下手 is a common word.

So, what am I missing here or did I simply make a mistake in my search for ‘he’?

And, if ‘he’ is really missing in action, are there (lots of) others as well? Why would this be the case? I MUST be missing / misunderstanding something or just NOT looking in the right place! Help…

1 Like

This is an example of something called jukujikun. It’s a kunyomi (reading of Japanese origin) that got applied to the kanji pair as a whole rather than individual kanji. Other examples you probably know include 今日 (きょう) and 大人 (おとな).

In the case of 下手, it does seem kind of confusing that there are two kana that line up with the two kanji, but that’s just a coincidence.

The dictionary says that へた comes from a corruption of はた (which would now be written as 端) and then the kanji 下手 was applied to match the meaning.


It’s not a rule that kanji have to be read with their kanji readings, though I understand that may sound weird at first.

Words like 三十路 have a non kanji reading for 十 (though jisho actually includes it for some reason) and words like 反応 have 応 read as のう rather than おう. The jukujikun that Leebo outlined is the more common reason though


Though interestingly enough, しもて and したて do exist as well, with different meanings.

1 Like

One I like is 躊躇う and 躊躇. I think 躊躇う is jukujikun (?) but weirdly enough both kanji have ためら listed as kunyomi. So if it DOES use the kanjis readings then which kanji are you reading when you read ためらう、、、


When you find a “weird” reading like this, I recommend checking the wiktionary to see if it has the etymology: 下手 - Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Unfortunately for Japanese the etymology is often missing (Indo-European languages have a much, much better coverage in my experience) but in this case it does give you the answer Leebo pointed out above:

Probably a semantic shift from 端 (heta, “edge of something”), referring metaphorically to the edge of one’s abilities or knowledge.

The kanji spelling appears to be an instance of jukujikun (熟字訓).


Thanks for the info! I figured there must have been an explanation; something I NEVER would have gotten on my own.