What's up with 麦?

Wanikani taught me this kanji means “wheat”, and that’s it. But every time I’ve actually seen this kanji or the word “mugi” being used, it means “barley”… For example, the popular 麦茶 (which, to me, tastes quite horrible to be honest…). Also, Wiktionary tells me it also could be used for rye and oat… then why this kanji just simply doesn’t mean “grain”? Seems odd to me, since wheat, barley, rye and oat are veeeeery much different things and need to be differentiated. Does anyone know the story behind mugi?


I’m pretty sure they just thought since we’re all fellow American’s, we just think all grains are wheat.

Solution: Add user definition grain.

It is wrong, and those who don’t just think of all grains as wheat will be a little confused down the line, but it is relatively harmless among definitions. At least it has no chance of embarrassing or misleading the user.

But what if you’re in a Japanese wheat/grain convention!! You’ll be embarrassed! Lol


Mm, well I kiiind of can understand that but still it feels like an unnecessary simplification of the word’s meaning. And I’m also wondering why the Japanese have only this one word for many different kinds of grains (although seems that it primarily means barley anyway), I would think they could differentiate since at least both wheat and barley are used around there, and they are very different.

Wait, in American wheat/grain are synonymous? I never knew that, I would always see Wheat as a specific type of grain. Interesting!


The point with all of this is not to overload the user with meanings, especially at the kanji learning stage. Kanji will often only have 1 or 2 meanings and 1 or 2 readings at most to give the user a basic understanding of what that kanji means, which is then expanded through the vocabulary.

Any kanji in jisho would have several if not many different meanings attached to the kanji but on wk they’re trying to encourage people to not quit, so they just go with the most common/flexible meaning when you’re first absorbing it and then build upon it later.

If I learned the meaning of 麦 is wheat and then I learned that 小麦 is wheat but in 麦茶 it meant barley instead, it’s not gonna blow me away. I can just append a mental note to the information I’ve already locked in about 麦。If they actually dumped every possible real meaning of every new kanji, more people would quit for sure.


Mugi is just a catch all term for all of those grains. There are specific Japanese words to differentiate barley, wheat and rye.

A lollipophuho said, it just keeps it simple to remember mugi as wheat. The kanji keywords are pretty arbitrary anyway.


How dare you :thinking::joy:


What happens with 麦 is exactly the same that happens with 豆(まめ), the word for beans.

Of course 大豆 (soy)、小豆 (azuki)、枝豆 (edamame)、ひよこ豆 (chickpea)、レンズ豆 (lentil)、いんげん豆 (green bean?) are completely different things, with different color, shape, taste and size. But still, there is a catch-all term 豆 that covers them all.

麦 is the same, the only difference is that while there is an English word equivalent to 豆, “Beans”, there is none to 麦, since “grain” is already waaay broader than 麦 itself. Interestingly, the wikipedia page for 麦 (which curiously doesn’t have an equivalent English page) defines it as 「外見の類似したイネ科穀物の総称である」, “a general term for cereals from the Poaceae family that look alike”, exactly because there is no clear definition. It is a food group, not a scientific term. When Japanese want to clarify it, they just say 小麦, 大麦 and so on.


But if you write all of that explanation for every single term in the page, people will get frustrated. So they just used the most common 麦 (wheat) as the meaning. Seems fair to me.

Thank you!! That was an amazing explanation. I for one am definitely very interested in learning Japanese as actual Japanese and not just as some simplified English translations (if that makes sense), so for me it’s very interesting to get a deeper understanding of the etymology and meanings of all those Japanese words or phrases that don’t have exact English equivalents. Thus I wouldn’t be at all annoyed by some longer clarifications/explanations on WK :joy: but yeah, maybe some people don’t care as much and would just find it distracting.


Fifty words for rice. One word for all other grains. :slightly_smiling_face:


小麦 (こむぎ) = wheat
大麦 (おおむぎ) = barley

I used plain ‘麦’ in a conversation once and got corrected by my tutor. It seems to mean just plain ‘grains’.


A Japanese to Japanese dictionary will probably serve that purpose much better unless your goal is to learn Japanese as detailed English translations.


…That’s a bit mean for Americans.

And I’m not even American, so I guess I shouldn’t care, but still.

Good point. There are probably other examples like these if we look.

I’m American and thought 麦 was wheat and not grain. I don’t associate wheat with all grains at all. But I didn’t know 麦 was actually grain, that should definitely be changed.

And yes, it is harmless, but there is absolutely no reason for it not to be grain.

The reason is because 麦 does not mean grain. It means wheat-ish grains only, like barley, oat and rye. There is no word for that in English and that is the problem.

“Grain” alone includes corn, rice and several other plants that would never be called 麦 and thus would be a lot more harmful than “wheat”.


Turns out that the German equivalent for “grain” also includes rice and corn. I always thought it just refers to “wheat-ish” grains and I think that’s a common misconception. Either that or I’m dumb…

What Japanese word would include all types of grains? Is 穀物 the word for it?


Well, all grains are wheat to me, but that may be because I’m not a native English speaker (so I don’t know what barley, oats, rye are and how they differ from wheat).