My silly rant about 合

You can see some senses like that in the 漢検 漢字ペディア and デジタル大辞泉 entries for the character:



The ‘elegant, beautiful’ sense looks like it developed from “beautiful and sophisticated like the kind of thing you only find in the capital city”. Daijisen’s definition is a little more verbose:


Commands and leadership coming from the capital also has a plausible link I guess.

The sense used in 都合 is


apparently. No idea how that relates to the others.


In other words, “fitting the capital”? :sweat_smile:


And it’s the すべて meaning that is used in 都合 apparently . :thinking:
Quite a strange word this 都合…

1 Like

Just FYI, this is the most common sense of 都 in Mandarin. It’s used adverbially to mean ‘all’ nearly all the time. (Here, just for laughs, an illustration via a translation of that last sentence into Mandarin: "都"差不多是"所有"的意思 = ‘都s almost all [have] the meaning “all”’)

As for how it relates to the others, here’s a suggestion:

To unite, bring together and govern, you have to gather all together under one banner. Likewise, capitals are centres of power whose authority stretches across entire nations. Therefore, ‘all’.

The definition relating to beauty is probably a reference to how things tend to look in capitals. They’re usually the most extravagant city in each of their respective countries, after all. Daijirin phrases it like this:

④ 洗練されている。都会風。「都雅」

I won’t assume I can solve all of OP’s problems, since some words really make no obvious sense – besides, a rant is usually more an expression of frustration than an appeal for help – but I have some suggestions, starting with the kanji itself:

Notice that all of these definitions involve some sort of ‘coming together’ (because yes, even to ‘suit’ or ‘fit’ something, you need a standard of reference and the thing being considered to come together for comparison). ‘Matching’ is also a big theme. If you reduce the kanji meanings to these slightly more vague ideas, it’ll be easier to extend them for understanding. Additionally, it will help you avoid being forced to shoehorn excessively precise definitions into your interpretations, resulting in explanations that ultimately just confuse and frustrate.

Your explanation already makes perfect sense, but I want to highlight one other useful fact about 〜合う and 〜合い compounds that look like verbs: I mentioned ‘coming together’, right? Well, [verb masu-stem]合う tends to indicate an idea of mutual or reciprocal action. In other words, here, 知り合い most likely comes from the verb 知り合う, which means ‘to know mutually’ i.e. ‘to know each other’. The ideas of ‘togetherness’ and ‘reciprocity’ (=matching) are central to this structure, and in this case, well, people who know each other are acquaintances.

Here’s a first example of precise definitions causing problems: because you’re using a rigid, idiomatic (for English) definition of ‘join’, you get stuck, possibly because ‘join’ is not the most helpful definition here.

Let’s try working with the ideas of ‘coming together’ and ‘matching’: 間 is an ‘interval’, a ‘space’, yes? So what happens if you end up ‘coming together’, ‘lining up with’ or indeed ‘matching’ the interval? You’re within it, yes? Now, what if that interval is the one within which something had to be done? Well, in that case, you’d be in time.

Yeah, so, this one isn’t your fault at all. My monolingual dictionary says this:

⑤ →待合室の略。
Translation: abbreviation of 待合室

Guess what? You’re right! There was originally a 室 (‘room (with a specific purpose)’) in the word, and that’s the full word, but 待合 also works. If we want to get technical, I think this is a sort of metonymy – you’re referring to a ‘waiting room’ by the name of the action performed in it: ‘waiting (for someone else)’. If you prefer my 〜合う explanation from earlier, it’s a room where people ‘wait for each other’.

This word is often used to mean ‘game’ in the competitive sense, i.e. a ‘match’. Coincidentally, that works really well with my ‘matching’ idea, but I assure you I didn’t plan this when I started writing :laughing:

Anyhow, my dictionary (Daijirin) says that it actually comes from し合い i.e. the act of ‘doing mutually’ or ‘doing to each other’. (Yes, I know that sounds rather :wink:, but let’s ignore that for now…) In a match or game, people do indeed tend to all play the game and affect each other, which lines up very well with that.

Indeed, the mnemonic doesn’t make a ton of sense, and I must confess that in Mandarin, this word also exists as is (and might even have been imported from Japanese). I’ll just give you my intuition from Chinese first, even if I’m not 100% sure it works in Japanese: you have a place (場) where everything (different factors, people etc.) comes together (合), well, you end up with the totality of the circumstances.

However, so, fun fact: there’s also this (probably) archaic definition in the 精選版 日本国語大辞典 on Kotobank:

① (━する) その場面、情況にふさわしい、または適切な処置をすること。

Translation: to take steps that match or are appropriate for the scenario or situation (note: the example is in Classical Japanese)

In other words, it’s probably actually the noun form of a verb that meant ‘to match the location (and other circumstantial elements’, which then got extended to refer to those circumstances and the specific case they describe.

This word is kinda vague, yeah, but the mnemonic is trash IMO because it doesn’t give you an idea of how it’s used, precisely because you don’t know what sort of ‘condition’ it refers to.

Anyhow, writing all this has made me dig further, and guess what? Turns out that 合い(あい)can actually…

㋐ 「ようす」「ぐあい」などの意を表す。「色―」「肌―」
Translation: expresses meanings like ‘appearance’, ‘condition’

So I mean, you could take that and apply it to 場合 too (the overall look/condition of a location is the circumstances), but so here, you’ve got ‘the condition of a tool/object’ for 具合, which you can then extend to the condition of other sorts of things. (I mean, imagine an engine or a utility knife getting worn out over time or something. That’s the sort of ‘condition’ we’re talking about.)

How did 合い get this meaning? I don’t really know, but I refer back to my intuition from Chinese for 場合: everything comes together. If you gather all the information you have about a certain thing, you get its condition or situation. Still pretty logical, no?

OK, no, the mnemonic here is just confusing you. What kind of diagram or symbol can be used as a signal? It has to be a diagram that people came together to create, something that has mutual significance. Additionally, in the context of information transmission/transfer, if the symbol or diagram you see matches the one you know, you then know that it’s a signal. Any other random symbol or diagram would be meaningless. Completely sensible.

In short, ‘a mutual(合)diagram(図) is a signal(合図)’.

Leebo’s already given us a brilliant explanation for this one. If you think about it, it’s a lot like ‘make the grade’ in English: that ‘grade’ is a standard that has to already exist, so if you meet i.e. match it, you pass.

It actually makes a ton of sense, but WK didn’t dig deep enough into monolingual definitions and the importance of different readings to see it. There’s a reason why 都 here is read つ, and not と, which is the on’yomi when it means ‘metropolis’. Here, it means ‘all’, as pm215 mentioned (and I discussed above), which is why it’s read つ instead. That meaning probably isn’t taught by WK though, which is why – I think – it wasn’t included in any explanations. In fact, how this works is exactly what I was saying about 場合 and (to a lesser extent) 具合 above: if all the factors come together, you get the circumstances, which determines what is to one’s convenience.

Side note: I honestly think ‘convenience’ is one of the most awkward translations for this word, because while it’s accurate, it’s not natural in all contexts, and often requires paraphrasing. For example, when you say 都合が悪い, you can’t translate that as ‘[my] convenience is bad’. What it really means is ‘my circumstances are “bad” i.e. unsuitable for the thing being considered, and thus, it is inconvenient for me’. Translating it as ‘one’s convenience’ is a good way of remembering what nuance to convey for an accurate translation, but it jumps an entire logical step in the interpretation, making 都合 utterly incomprehensible for a learner.

Anyhow, I hope at least some of that was helpful, and I apologise once again for making yet another response that’s significantly longer than the original post.


Jona for president! :joy:

Big thanks for the super thorough explanations! From this I take that it’s worth digging a little deeper and being more flexible about the keywords used in mnemonics and instead trying to wrench/shoehorn 1 English word into multiple meanings, it makes more sense to, as you did, derive a more “vague” idea behind the kanji which then can be more easily applied to multiple scenarios.

In some of these cases it might also be worth taking a step back (in time!) and imagining how things worked when these words were originally used to avoid having to take a mnemonic (which already made massive leaps in logic) at face value.