Opinions on WaniKani radical and kanji names?

I had a look at the old topics like this one and this one, however I just reached level 31 and am somewhat puzzled by the radical names.

is “bully” in WaniKani and “tripod” in Jisho, for instance.

is “library” in WaniKani and “level” and alternatively “flat” when used instead of 平 in words.

is “guy” in WaniKani and “son” in Jisho.

What I’m wondering about is why choose arbitrary names for radicals and sometimes kanji, and then try to build mnemonics around them when they have perfectly good names which would make easy mnemonics and that knowledge would translate directly to further studies after one is done with WaniKani?

Also, to me personally it’s easier to reason about kanji when one considers the more traditional meaning of a radical, instead of the WaniKani name :slight_smile: .


I agree; it seems to be one of the worst aspects of WaniKani, often discussed and never resolved.
It is annoying that you are further tested on radicals and have to remember their awkward names, what is the purpose of memorising these after you have learned the Kanji, if they are only of use in WaniKani?
The arguments for it, seem to be the whackier the name the easy it is to remember. This seems to be at the heart of many of the ill thought out mnemonics often relying on clumsy humor.

I am hoping someone has written a script that removes radicals from memorization.

I have bought WaniKani, so I obviously think there is a lot right with it, but some basic aspects seem flawed and detrimental to progress.


It does seem odd, but I imagine WK had its reasons. I am aware that there may be tests which ask for names of certain radicals and may be useful for those very few people. I would hope there’s an organization that would have the “official names of radicals” listed somewhere, but all I can find are the list of radicals themselves(If someone can find the source for these, I’d appreciate it. Otherwise the names are free game to anyone). At this point, I’ve gotten used to simply adding my own synonym and rely on my own mnemonics so it doesn’t bother me much at this point. If it works for some people, it works. :man_shrugging:

Though I will throw in a personally gripe, I recently got confused when I saw 係. They first teach you it’s made up of イ + 一 + 糸. At a later level, you’re given the 系 radical, which crashed my brain when it popped up again. I can imagine this will happen frequently as I inch closer to the complex kanji.

I agree, if it was only about radicals, especially ones used exclusively by WaniKani, I wouldn’t mind completely, but some of those radicals are also kanji and when these kanji are used in vocab outside of WaniKani, to me at least that would be a bit of an issue.

鬲 is a bit of an exaggeration, but if I were to chose between “tripod” and “bully”, I would chose “tripod”, because that at least aligns with an existing meaning :slight_smile: .

I would prefer “cauldron” here since 鬲 is also an obsure term for a Chinese kettle with three legs. I didn’t realize the word “tripod” had been around for so long until now. Out of curiosity, googling “bully radical” send you straight to the WK page for the radical too, so perhaps they’re trying to set new trends for future learners(and we are all the guinea pigs :hamster:) At the end of the day, any of these names are leagues better than “Radical 193”.

Though after looking at these glyphs, it kind of reminds me of the ghosts from Pac-Man, the bullies of the game :joy:

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It’s actually never really bothered me that much. I know that they’re conventions and I either use the one WK came up with or I make up my own and keep it consistent.

鬲 for me is “scholar” because if you squint it looks like a guy with a Fu Manchu and a mortar board hat.

When I get to something like 融, it’s the scholar studying insects by dissolving them in acid.


There’s a reason we can set our own synonyms.


Then what’s the point of paying?

The value of what a product is worth is something you have to deal with yourself. I’m not a spokesperson. WaniKani, with all it’s “faults”, is an invaluable resource to me. If you don’t think so, I can’t help you.


What my post meant is: OP thinks the way WK teaches radicals isn’t optimal and your solution is to completely ignore what WK teaches and make up your own radicals. Which begs the question. What’s the point of paying?
(as in: why use WK at all?)


Heisig did this too, making up names of certain radicals. I remember reading that he only did that for radicals whose “official” name was lost to history.

I’d think the logical approach would be to use the 214 Kangxi radicals. A lot of them have strayed far from their ideographic roots, and others can overlap with their meanings. The two radicals that WaniKani says mean “winter,” 夂 and 夊, mean “go” and “go slowly.” And I don’t know all the ins and outs of how hanzi became kanji or where kokuji would fall in this system. But that’s probably what I’d do if I had to start all over again.

It’s probably a difference in design principles. Mnemonics tend to work best when they implant a strong image in the brain. Tofugu’s top priority is to make mnemonics to conjure up a strong image to the kanji sticks. That still gets difficult over level 50, though. It feels like there’s a limit to how many strong images the brain can store.

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Personally, I like scooter and nailbat.

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Because I only have to put in a little bit of work to adjust things to suit me personally.

If all you want is the SRS part and you’re ok with putting in the work to do everything from scratch, then there’s kitsun.io

Part of the value of WK is that it allows you to tailor things like that because it’s impossible to have a widely available product that fits everyone.

I have a few threads on here complaining about the inconsistency too, but nitpicking the details doesn’t mean that the rest of it becomes worthless.


And I completely agree with this. Whenever I have a batch of new lessons I do a dictionary cross-check and add user synonyms wherever I think they might be useful, because I don’t want to trip up a couple of months from now when I get Enlightened or Burn reviews and get an item wrong, because I used a synonym that wasn’t registered :slight_smile: .

Agreed. Thinking about it from a broader perspective, most of the content is fine and I have no problem with the majority of glosses. What I do mind is the couple odd ones which prompt me to double-check every lesson item to make sure I’m not learning the incorrect meaning of a kanji. And by incorrect meaning, I do actually mean it.

One of the first ones that tripped me up was the 台 kanji which in WaniKani features as “machine”. For new kanji I try to pick up more vocab from outside WaniKani to see how it’s used in broader word context. After a couple of words I realized 台 doesn’t mean “machine”, but “platform” or “pedestal”. Now imagine you see that kanji in the wild in new words and the first thing that comes to your mind is “machine”, because you’re biased.

Another kanji I recently learned was 豪. In WaniKani it has the meaning of “luxurious” and is always used that way in mnemonics. The real meaning is “tremendous” or something along those lines, and one will see that meaning in words outside WaniKani (豪雨 - heavy rain, for instance). For the words in WaniKani like 豪傑 or 豪華 it could be interpreted both ways, but to me the meaning of “tremendous” makes more sense:
豪華 - luxurious (“tremendous showiness”)
豪傑 - hero (“tremendous greatness”)

So to be frank, it’s less about being nitpicky and more about an incorrect meaning being propagated :slight_smile: .


Regarding the Wanikani radical names, it’s true they’re mostly made up names. There are a few reasons why the Wanikani team did things the way they did.

The number one reason is to make memorable stories. The main point of Wanikani isn’t to teach you the official radical names, it’s to teach you to read Japanese, which means to memorize kanji and vocab. The made-up radicals are just a tool for that purpose.

The official radical names (while arguably useful to know) aren’t really used for much other than looking up kanji in a paper dictionary, where they’re indexed by their official, single radical. That’s right, every kanji officially has just one radical (部首). Check out Radical (Chinese characters) - Wikipedia and List of kanji radicals by stroke count - Wikipedia for more information.

What Wanikani calls “radicals” aren’t radicals in the proper sense, it’s just what they call the “kanji parts”. I agree it’s probably needlessly confusing, calling their made up “kanji parts” radicals, but one could argue that 99% of Wanikani users probably will never know about official radicals or ever use a paper dictionary. Official radicals are a relatively obscure topic that’s unlikely to show up in a regular Japanese 101 class, or in a textbook. It’s probably this very reason that they did it the way they did.

Speaking of the Wanikani “radical” names, they already changed them once, to less problematic names, so it’s not out of the question that they’d do it again if they felt it was needed. Personally I don’t mind the radical names very much, but an overhaul of the system would probably be good if they ever get around to it.

They should probably use names that are as close as possible to the official names, whenever possible, I’d definitely agree with that. It’s probably very very low on their priority list though.


I think one of the main points is to simply show that you recognize the difference between the strokes you’re seeing. The names act like an anchor. It’s like how knowing the names of different shades of colours help you distinguish between multiple similarly-coloured objects long-term. It doesn’t matter if you say blue lavender or periwinkle, you’ll be able to tell it from a blue, purple, and lavender in your memories.


100% agree with this. It’s super annoying to realize this later, after already memorizing the inaccurate (or even just imprecise) meaning.

This is also so annoying. The new lesson pages don’t even directly let you add synonyms. Why can’t they just include all of the core meanings…

Probably not lower than Etoeto though.


Isn’t that what Fu Manchu does best? Squinting?


Personally, I quite like WK radical names – they are hilarious and easy to remember :sweat_smile: