Suggestion for supplementary reading mnemonic for 勢い


I always thought the reading for 勢い (いきおい) was to strange to be ‘just an exception’, which seems implied when the WK reading mnemonic begins “This is a rough one. …”. So, I went digging in to see if I could find any kind of ‘etymological’ clues for where the word comes from. I often find looking for the ‘etymology’ of words to be useful for remembering them (whether for meaning, or for reading, or both) – even if the ‘etymology’ I ‘discover’ is really just some faux-etymology I came up with. Jisho isn’t really intended as an etymological dictionary after all; it just has a quite decent search engine, allowing to search for connections between words in a variety of ways. But anyway, I digress.

In the end, I did not find any useful ‘etymological’ information for 勢い, which again actually struck me as quite weird. Usually there’s something to find.

Regardless, I ended up coming up with another faux-etymology which – even though I’m only going off of my intuition and nothing official/researched – I think is actually pretty darn good. Just have to consider it as strictly a mnemonic tool, and take it with a grain of salt. Still, I think it would serve well as a mnemonic. Hence I’m suggesting it for WK, if it might help supplement the existing reading mnemonic (which. being a little frank, I didn’t really find very useful :woman_shrugging::sweat_smile:)

It’s a bit long and pedantic, but could surely be condensed and WaniKani-fied to a shorter version. Anyway, here it is:

Sketch of the Mnemonic:


There isn’t really much online, and I expect that finding anything that provides a complete, convincing etymology for it is quite difficult unless you have access to specialist texts (though I can see from your post that you’re not necessarily looking for something historically accurate). Still, so… there’s historical kana usage data that shows how these things used to be spelt, and since I have that in my dictionary, and it popped up on Wiktionary too, I decided to try my luck. Here’s what I found:

  1. いきおい used to be spelt いきほひ
  2. If you check that on Wiktionary, the first definition is「気勢。気力。活力。」(=spirit/energy; drive; vitality). You’ll also see that there’s a link to a verb: いきほふ
  3. That verb is defined as follows:

I know that the first translation in my JP-EN dictionary is ‘force’, but I’ve always seen 勢い used in contexts that suggest liveliness, or forcefulness due to liveliness. Plus, I think the kanji that turns up the most in what we’ve just seen is 活 (only twice, granted, but hear me out), and it seems like the idea of vitality and being alive and active that it represents is present in all the definitions. Interestingly enough, 活 can also be read… you guessed it: いき. As in 活きる=いきる (‘to be effective/in force’), more often written 生きる when it simply means ‘to be alive’, and 活き活きする (‘to be lively, fresh, vivid’), also written as 生き生きする. I have no clue where the ほひ・ほふ bit comes from – can’t find anything particularly persuasive – but I think this whole idea of boisterous, forceful, living energy fits 勢い very well. I personally thought いき was related to 息=いき (breath), but even then, fundamentally, the idea behind it all is life, as in ‘the breath of life’.

If you want, we can borrow something from one of the origin theories for におい (smell), which used to be にほひ, from the verb にほふ, which once could mean ‘to bloom/shine beautifully’: it might have come from にほ (丹穂), with に meaning ‘red’ and ほ meaning ‘to stand out’. If we assume ほふ means something similar here, we might have ‘outstanding life’ i.e. ‘a character bursting with vitality’. Do I think it applies? Probably not, but eh, that’s one way of thinking about it. I personally just got so frustrated looking the word up so many times that I ended up remembering it, kinda through a sound distortion: いき (lively/breath)+よい (good) or いき (lively/breath)+おおい (many). Either way, lots of life, lots of 勢い. That’s how I see it. :laughing:


What if, it’s イッキ from Medabots and メタビー is calling him.



Thanks for that detailed reply! After closer inspection, I agree with you that the word actually has much more to do with ‘liveliness’ than with ‘moving objects’. I guess that’s my bias from my interest in the physical sciences! :nerd_face::sweat_smile:

Actually, I had looked up sentences on Jisho (sourced from Tatoeba website) and just quickly glanced at them to get a general sense. Some of them referenced things like flowing water and typhoons – one example I just looked up translates to “The force of the current carried the bridge away.” – so I jumped to the conclusion this ‘force’ was analogous to ‘force’ in physics, but if I had read a few more sentences, I would have soon realized my mistake. Others refer to liveliness of people, as you suggest – e.g. “She always looks like she’s half-asleep, but once she gets into an argument, she really goes to town.” – which have little to do with physical force.

I still like my mnemonic though, but perhaps it could be amended to use 活き or 生き as you suggest. Could maybe stick with 追い in the sense of ‘follow’ as in: This kind of force refers to a liveliness that follows a person or thing around.

In terms of WaniKani, the reading for 生き would already be known, while I think 活き would be new. 追い has the advantage that it is already used many times in WK and is the default reading for 追.

BTW, interesting possible connection you brought up with におい and the historical verb ほふ seemingly being in common for both words’ origins. It seems plausible! I wonder what that verb originally meant. :thinking: Hehe, not enough to go look it up, though! :sweat_smile:

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