Unsearchable words, and HOW to understand them? [A Self-Guide]

I got motivated to write this, after my repeated frustrations of not being able to figure out some unsearchable Japanese words and phrases I come across! In other words, I can’t simply find meaningful answers via a direct dictionary or google search.

I wonder at times what is that cause? if my lacking cultural nuances? or the basic understanding of the logic of abbreviating and meshing words together? Or other reasons that I’m still getting my head around. Whatever the reason is, I’m frustrated, and I would like to find out with you through this case that I have encountered today while playing the Japanese version of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

This word is なつきぐあい

While of course, I want to know what does なつきぐあい mean? But more than that, I am eager to understand What is an effective approach when I find my self in a similar situation, where simply looking it up is not fruitful?

In the example above, I went through the following steps:

1. Understanding the context.

While I’m playing the lovely game, I understand much of the context of the story, the connection with the horse I have captured in the wild, and these labels relating to that horse. But I don’t know what does that label means? So it is placed under a gage of some sort, meaning it measures something. This clue by itself filtered out a lot of initial guesses that I might have on the possible meaning of [なつきぐあい] however as a whole word it is not making any sense.

2. Breaking it down into possible sub-sets.

We are still in the guess-game here, it feels like playing Sudoku. Capitalizing on the contextual understanding the only part I found useful was the tail part [ぐあい → 具合] which could mean in this context as condition or state.


makes a lot of sense when I am measuring something. So, if my assumption is correct; What in the world could なつき mean?!

3. Playing with variations / Dictinary form.

At this point, I have almost given up on the remaining part [なつき]. Writing it down in Jisho.org did not give me any meaningful answers matching the context. Google translate is even more misleading here. Could it possibly be a variant form of the original word I’m looking for? So I tried discarding the last character き and examined the list of results searching for [なつ]. While it’s obvious this has nothing to do with the summer season [なつ → 夏]. A word on the list stood out: [なつく → 懐く] to become emotionally attached!

Hmm, could that possibly be it! The verb ending with き to make it attachable with the next noun :scream_cat: なつぐあい which indicates the condition or state of emotional attachment. In the context of the game, it’s the gage of the emotional attachment between the captured horse and you (the protagonist). The English version of the game cleverly translated this into Bond :sparkling_heart:.

I could easily settle for “Bond” as a translation. But I was frustrated, yet amazed by how much work and nuance understanding goes in translating these works of art (games, novels, films, literature…etc.) across other languages. If the game was originally written in English, would it possibly be that it’s Japanese translation remain as なつきぐあい? or will it be a less nuanced version such as [つなぎ → 繋ぎ] or [えん → 縁]?

So yes, I found my answer.

But in the process of writing this, I wondered if I’m wasting my time in this search? can’t I just settle at discovering that なつきぐあい → Bond ~ AND MOVE ON!

I truly wanted to dig more into the root cause of my frustration. Is it just a lack of vocabulary I’m missing here? Or is there something more to it? of course, there is the pleasure of finding things out! But I wanted to seek a better way of learning and understanding.

When a straight forward dictionary lookup or a google translation does not work, what would be an effective approach? I would love to hear your ways and thought. :raised_hands:


P.S. This case as an argument against (Anti-Kanji people 🙅反漢字). Showing how convenient and time saving it could have been if that was written in Kanji, but that’s for another story.

P.P.S. This is another related and helpful discussion here on How to tell the difference between words and phrases in Japanese.

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Well, that.

For this, I pretty much straight away went “well, ぐあい is a word, so let’s puzzle over なつき”.

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There are a variety of questions you can ask yourself when you’re really stuck

  1. Could any of these parts be conjugations from other parts of speech
  2. How do the meanings change if you parse it in different ways
  3. Are there dialectal or historical variations that could be involved

And obviously with experience you get quicker at recognizing things.

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Yeah, you pretty much went about it the way I would have. But I also don’t feel kanji are necessarily a must. If you’d known either of the words, you could have guessed the meaning from there. Also in speech you have to be able to recognize a word from sound and context alone, just like you had to now. Being able to parse kana is just as important as being able to understand kanji.

But I’m not sure what the 反漢字 thing as all about. I wouldn’t like to get rid of all kanji in all contexts at all.

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It looks like a case of game jargon. It can help to search it online.

Top search results are for なつき度 in Pokemon. There’s a wiki entry that explains what it is.

JRPGs like to show pages and pages of tutorials and mechanics explanation. Perhaps なつき度 has become quite widely used so they don’t write what it means. In Zelda they just say it’s not a bond degree/level but bond status.

But overall you have a good approach and you figured it out eventually.

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To be fair, なつく is an extremely common word when talking about animals that have relationships with humans, so once you’ve heard of it, it should immediately come to mind in those cases. Pairing it with ぐあい or ど does make it “video gamey” but… it is a video game, so they’ve got to make the stuff sound stat-like somehow.

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If you can’t find a phrase in dictionaries, it often helps to let ichi.moe parse it.

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