Subliminal Conditioning in "大人"

When I first learned “大人” I asked my Japanese coworker why the word is so strange. It doesn’t use the 音 or 訓 of either kanji! So we researched and he seemed compelled by the argument that the pronunciation of 大人 comes from 音無 (silent).
Then, getting into level 3 I learned the word for “obedient” – 大人しい.
So the word adult is closely related to words for both quiet and obedient. And when I asked my coworker about 大人しい he said he had never thought of that relation, it just was the way it was.
So what do yall think? Is the language subliminally controlling the masses?!


It’s “weird” because it’s a kunyomi (native Japanese word) that got applied to a whole set of kanji, rather than just one kanji. That’s called jukujikun. Another common word that falls in the same category is 今日 (きょう).

And it’s possible that おと and おとな are etymologically related, but おとな is speculated to derive from a defunct verb おとなう, so that’s where the な would have come from, not なし.

おとなしい would then have been formed from the established おとな meaning. “Like an adult.”

しい is a common adjective-forming suffix. It used to get stuck onto various nouns to make adjectives.


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