So wait, about the kanji 刀

If かたな “刀” is simply sword in Japanese, and we called this Japanese sword Katana in English, then what is that Japanese sword name called in its own language? Couldn’t be “sword” since there are other swords, which would be called 刀 regardless if I’m not wrong.

1 Like

Keep in mind there’s some considerations made for non-experts using the words, both in dictionaries and in Wanikani’s choice of words to pass.

My impression from clicking around JP wikipedia and dictionaries a bit is that
is mainly about swords with one sharp edge. Especially, but not necessarily, Japanese ones.
(I think that’s a later wanikani level) is mainly about swords with two sharp edges, but could also be taken to include 刀 and just mean swords in general.
Specifically the Japanese katanas would be 日本刀 (にほんとう) but I imagine you’d probably only want to use that if you were like, extra being precise about the distinction.
Bladed stuff in general (not necessarily swords but including them) would be 刃物,
Various distinctions of non-Japanese sword styles would be in katakana, like ショートソード (those come up a lot in RPGs)

So it’s not quite as straightforward as 刀 = sword, but when asked what it means, “sword” is a perfectly acceptable answer, and levels of precision matter more or less in different scenarios. In the same way in English if I saw a sword I didn’t know the type of, I’d just call it a “sword” and not a katana, in Japanese they may well do the reverse.

Does that make sense?
(disclaimer I might be wrong about stuff, I’m not a sword or language expert)


Well that makes perfect sense, lesson of the day!

1 Like

You seen those warriors from 日本?They’ve got 曲刀。曲…刀!


What we think of a katana is often also called 打刀 (うちがたな) in Japanese. The slightly shorter one also worn at the same time is called a 脇差 (わきざし), though if it’s particularly short, it’s a 短刀 (たんとう) instead.

While we’re on the subject, you’re gonna come across 酒 (さけ) in the next level, which just means “alcohol”. What we call “sake” in the West is called 日本酒 (にほんしゅ) in Japan.


I think this is a fairly common phenomenon (at least in English, I can’t really speak for other languages) where a general term for something in a language is imported into English to mean a specific kind of that thing associated with the language in question; chai tea and naan bread come to mind as other examples. I think that sort of thing’s super interesting!

(Definitely not speaking for the specifics of what 刀 means, that’s way out of my realm of expertise :joy: but I think it’s the same kind of idea)


And Yurt, the English* word I’ve most frequently seen in the “What’s the latest English word you learned thanks to WK” thread.


I actually find this quite easy to remember because there‘s the expression 諸刃の剣(もろはのつるぎ), which means double-edged sword.

1 Like

Music swords?

music sword


Honestly I just thought an English person just pointed at a Japanese sword and went “what’s that” and the Japanese person went like “Sword” so they said “katana”, and the English person thought the specific sword was called a katana instead of it being a general term.

Just like that myth that when settler’s pointed at a kangaroo and asked what it was, the natives answered Guugu Yimithirr gangurru which meant for “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand”. (It doesn’t mean that btw.)


Fun fact: in the language of the Paakantyi people (who lived along the Darling River), it means “horse”. Basically, when the white man came around riding a strange new animal, and using a strange new word, it seemed fairly logical to connect the two together. Here in Sydney, the local Eora tribe assumed it referred to any edible animal.

But yeah, “kangaroo” comes from the Guugu Yimithirr word “gangurru” which means “kangaroo”. (Think you got the tribe’s name and the word mixed up there.)


This reminds me of how the word “salsa” is just Spanish for “sauce”. Or indeed the chai example mentioned above.


Yep, imagine my confusion when this was in level 6, part of the kanji/vocab…

Aw - Now I desperately wish it did mean that. That would be an awesome name origin, especially for a marsupial.

1 Like

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