Wear & arrive (着る・着く)amazement

I’ve used these words (きる・つく) in conversations for decades, having no idea they used the same kanji.

After finding no less than thirteen definitions for 着くin the dictionary (#13: “to be lucky”!) I’m starting to think someone is pulling my leg.

I asked my (Japanese) wife about it, and to my surprise she didn’t feel the wear/arrive meanings seemed unrelated at all. She said 着く can be used with clothing, too. She then mimed vague “putting on a shawl” motions while looking at me like that should explain it.

Despite her best efforts, I remain mystified.

I’m all too familiar with Japanese inscrutability, but I was curious if anyone here more fluent in both languages might be able to explain how this particular character can have these two utterly dissimilar meanings (or how Japanese people could possibly consider them similar!).

I know this kind of weirdness abounds, but these words are so common it fascinates me.


Maybe you mean for つく generically? But I don’t think 着く with that kanji could ever mean to be lucky. 着く is fairly limited.

The core meaning of つく is “something comes in close contact with another thing” and you can see how that could be applied to so many ideas. That’s where the many definitions and many kanji choices come in.


Thanks, that helps.

“Coming in close contact” certainly covers the “wear” connotation, and I guess I can see it stretching to connotations of reaching or arriving somewhere.

Now I’ve gone from thinking someone was pulling my leg to absolute gaslighting.

As I composed that last message, I looked up 着くon my phone (the Japanese app). Not sure what I selected, but I swear to you there were thirteen definitions listed (including “to be lit” and “to be lucky”).

Now when I look it up on the same app I get precisely two definitions: Godan Verb (Intransitive) 1. to arrive at, to reach. 2. to sit on, to sit at (e.g. the table).

Whoops. Now I see what I did: I fat fingered and looked up 付くaccidentally (and didn’t really look at the list). My bad.


I’d like your wife to explain why 便 can mean convenience or excrement or flight or mail :joy:

Not saying she wouldn’t have an explanation, but I’m still interested what she would say anyway.

[I kinda get “flight” and “mail” and “convenience” as belonging to the broad category of “service”. The poo-poo still baffles me] :poop: [Unless if it’s because it’s convenient to have a toilet when you really have to go]


There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. Just speculation. The multiple associations have been tied to that kanji since before coming into Japanese.

1 Like


Note that even English-speakers like me (admittedly older ones) call public toilets a “convenience” when they are trying to be polite. 便所 always struck me as similar.

I’ll let you know if she has anything to add. Language is ever fascinating.


Great - I feel old again. But yeah, the public convenience was easy to remember.
Should we have a thread for all the weird combinations? I am personally mystified how 運 can mean both luck and carry. Is it that you take your fate into your own hands and thus carry it? Thereby making your own luck?
Understanding stuff like this sheds light on the concepts behind the language.


This is what I found:

I think there are multiple interpretations of this character, but it’s clearly a combination of 辶 (from 辶) and 軍, which suggests the movement-related meaning came first and “luck” was a derived meaning. But how was it derived? Here’s what Henshall has to say:

辶 is movement 129. 軍 is army 466 q.v. Some scholars take the latter in a literal sense, giving army on the move and by association transportation and the fortunes of war. Others take it to act phonetically to express round , as well as lending its own connotations of both circle and vehicle (from a circle of vehicles), thus giving a meaning of vehicles rolling along , and hence transport . Luck is then felt to stem from an association between fortune and circular/cyclic movement.

It seems like the exact way it came to mean “luck” is unclear, but there you have a couple possible ways it could have happened.


For the vast majority of these it’s actually more helpful to look at the Chinese etymology. Most 2 and 4 character combinations remain unchanged from the original Chinese. There are a few that are of Japanese origin (science kagaku being one of them), but by-and-large they already had the meaning when borrowed. In the case of ben 便, in Classical Chinese the topic of going to the bathroom was considered taboo, and so people used the euphemism 方便 (convenience) to designate going to the toilet. Eventually, this became 大便 (poo) and 小便 (pee), and 便 became universally known as excrement.


The part quoting Kenneth Henshall in what I linked is talking about the Chinese etymology of the character. The part mentioning ‘round’ and ‘circle’ being used as the way to express movement or transport relates back to the character’s relation to the Proto-Sino-Tibetan word ‘wal’ which means round or circular.


I see, when I looked up the source the quote came from a book called “A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters” and is part of a section detailing a mnemonic for remembering that particular character. In either case, I don’t think he’s correct in terms of where it came from. I looked the character up in a Chinese etymology dictionary (http://vividict.com/Public/index/page/details/details.html?rid=12232), and the character was first transcribed with just 辶 and 車 (car) in bronze inscription. 軍 is considered to be a mistranscription of car when the script evolved into seal script and later the character was split off again to mean army. Similarly 辶 evolved from 辵, which means to walk, so the image is of someone walking next to a cart, presumably transporting what’s on that cart. What I like about this etymology entry too is that it lists references to when the character first appears in scripture. The first Chinese dictionary 方言 has a passage (sorry switching to simplified Chinese to make this easier on myself) 日运为躔,月运为逡 (Sun follows the course of the stars, the moon as if it retreats), giving rise to the idea of predestiny. The sun is carried by the stars, the moon carried by the sun, thereby giving rise to the idea of fate. 命運 being the predestiny of life.

1 Like

Ok so I went down a long rabbit hole researching the answer to your question. I can tell you at least a couple meanings of the character 着. So this character used to be written 箸, which you may recognize as chopsticks. Back in the day, when they slaughtered livestock, chopsticks would be inserted ceremoniously into the head of the animal as a way to thank the gods for giving them the feast, and this would be presented at the table. So gradually, this came to mean insert. As time went on, probably as a result of Confucian influence, stabbing the animal became a bad look and chopsticks were instead placed on the top of the animal’s head. After this we see references to 着 meaning to touch and later to attach. At this point we see references to 衣着 meaning “clothes.” 衣 (clothes) also evolved from an oracle script depicting two arms in two sleeves (body wear, and hence why 着 isn’t really used to mean wearing hats, watches etc. and only clothes or shoes). So now we have a doublet meaning clothes attached to the body, which then evolved to allow 着 to be used for catching fire (attaching fire to something), and at this point it becomes a generalized term meaning for something to have attached (aka this event just happened).

Ok that was a lot but is also a couple millenia of evolution on one single character. Hope this helps!

References (in Chinese):


I think the short answer to your question is just that people like to invent words. Just think of how many English words we invent or repurpose for the sake of memes. Now imagine that there’s no internet, most people don’t know how to read or write, and millions to billions of people simultaneously creating new words and meanings across geographies, eventually leading a bunch of new Japanese learners into a rabbit hole of “why is it like this?!” But that’s also the beautiful part of a language like this. The characters preserve the history.



I debated posting the question, but I find this stuff so interesting that I thought, “why not?”

The etymology of Chinese characters is a rabbit hole I’ve managed to avoid so far. Thanks so much for doing the work for me. I can see why people get so interested.

Great community here. Glad I posted now.

Heh. Apologies, I didn’t mean to be snide. :slight_smile:

I’m 58 but sometimes feel like I don’t speak the same language as some of the, uh, other adults I work with (who only look like teenagers).


I have the book, and the quote @athomasm provided included reference numbers for each of the two components of the character, wherein one would find futher etymological breakdowns very similar to the ones you’ve given.

Etymology of so ancient a language is always going to involve guesswork, which Henshall is forthright about, so labeling something as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ seems injudicious.

1 Like

Lol, no need to apologise. It wasn’t taken in such a way.

@plantron I know ‘gemak’ is a Dutch euphemism for the smallest room and translates directly into convenience. Does German have anything like a ‘Komfort’ or something?

edit: Google translate does produce the word amenities as an alternative for ‘Komfort’, but I guess that still doesn’t explain if it’s the amenities that can refer to the toilet or the Komfort.


I’m not familiar with any German slang for toilet that has a “convenience” connotation, but every language seems to have roundabout ways to talk about toilets because nobody wants to say it outright. These days the most common euphemism for toilets I hear is “the small room” (das kleine Zimmer). But most Germans would just say “Toilette” without batting an eyelid.


One of my boss’s favourite bits of trivia is that there’s no word in the English language for toilet that isn’t a euphemism in some form.


What-… What about toilet?