Why are we learning 'incorrect' radicals?

Okay, so I’m very new to WaniKani and am just trying out the first three levels to decide whether or not it’s worth the subscription fee. I’ve reached level 3 when I finally stumbled across “raptor cage” and “triceratops”. Those didn’t seem right. So, I started checking the radicals that I learned here and a lot of them have absolutely nothing to do with reality. And now I sort of feel like I’ve lost all faith in this website.

I get that we don’t actually use radicals on their own and it’s easier to memorise them this way but it also seems pointless to purposefully learn wrong stuff. (I mean, it’s also easy to memorise that World War I started in the year 1000 but that doesn’t mean you should memorise it this way.)

Maybe somebody can explain to me why we are learning things this way?


WaniKani uses the term radicals in a looser sense than the Kangxi radicals that are used for looking up kanji in paper dictionaries. WaniKani’s radicals are kanji parts that are used for creating memorable mnemonics.

The fact is, the Kangxi radicals don’t even have one single absolute name in Japanese, and the Japanese don’t use them for remembering the entire structure of kanji, because each kanji only has one official Kangxi radical (so the rest of the kanji elements aren’t described as radicals).

The only reason to learn the Kangxi radicals names is if you 1) want to describe kanji to Japanese people verbally (assuming they even remember them well from their school days), or 2) want to take the Kanji Kentei (a proficiency exam aimed at native speakers).

If you don’t fall into either of those categories, there’s no reason to care what Japanese people call the Kangxi radicals, and WK isn’t even using the radicals here for the same purpose.

Here, the creators picked names that can be used to help you remember the mnemonics, so that’s why they’re called what they’re called.

EDIT: Your WWI analogy makes no sense to me by the way. The kanji elements, the parts that make them up, have no official names and thus couldn’t be considered “facts” that WK is “getting wrong.”


And to add to Leebo’s answer; the radicals are used in the memonics for Kanji, making memonics out of the “real” names would be a pain in the arse.


Also, I realize my post probably sounds like I’m irritated or condescending. That wasn’t really my intent. But I answer this question a lot, so maybe that’s why.


Thanks a lot! That was actually really helpful.

(But I’m probably still going to be salty about having to review ‘raptor cage’ over and over again. It seems like it would’ve made more sense to have those mnemonics as part of the kanji learning and not learn them on their own.)

And yeah, I get that this theme get brought up a lot. I went about trying to find opinions in places like Reddit first but everybody just seemed like they wanted to complain and insult each other, so I couldn’t really find a good explanation there.

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Looks like you found /r/LearnJapanese then!


I’m not sure what you mean, like just introduce the mnemonic that includes “raptor cage” out of the blue when the kanji comes up? I realize the kanji that uses that one is one of the ones that has just one radical, so maybe it feels unnecessary, but the point is to build up as much as possible before introducing an abstract meaning to an abstract shape.

And if you really can’t stand entering “raptor cage” after you learn the kanji, you can just add “long time” as a meaning to the radical as a synonym.

WK is going to add more synonyms to the radicals eventually, but the update hasn’t gone through yet.


Yup, seems like it :grimacing:

Advice for there, only pay attention to the wiki they have… that’s pretty good. The rest just descends into arguments most of the time (in my experience at least)

I find that most of the radicals build of the meaning of the kanji they come from. Only exception is vague concepts, like long time, they found it easier to call it something physical to help you remember and find good mnemonics. There aren’t many full kanji in radical form that got a different meaning like that, as they try to keep the real meaning if possible.

There are many smaller radicals that doesn’t really have a meaning on their own, so they gave it one that they found easy to use in mnemonics, like hat.

I promise you, it makes sense, and it works! That is the most important thing =)
And I agree with Leebo. These are not “wrong facts”, they have put names on all radicals, and the radicals are not to be used in any other way than to help remember the kanji. You will find in the reviews that the radicals are the easiest and fastest so answering them is really not a burden.

Some of the radicals do have really stupid names (I’m looking at you “boob grave”), but this just goes back to them trying to make them memorable.

The radical that is called “boob grave” is usually called “arrive” in English 至, but the only reason for that is that it’s used to make 至る which does have the meaning of “arrive,” but even then it’s kind of an abstract meaning, and not physical arrival.

So, there’s no real reason to think “arrive” from just looking at it. The “boob” part comes from WK calling that upper part on its own “boob”.


Haha I also hate “Raptor cage”. It really seems pointless to call it raptor cage when it’s only used for one kanji, and that one means “long time”.

It’s one of very few “radicals” i take offense with on this site though. Most of them I find to be helpful as a part of the mnemonic device. Triceratops for example is fairly useful.


Hmm, okay, fair point. Thanks again, Probably-Exasperated-Insanely-High-Level-Sensei!

In the discussions I’ve found people were comparing different tools for learning kanji and vocab and the general consensus seemed to be that all of them suck. So I was kind of losing hope

WaniKani team does plan to create better radical names in the future update, including “real” radical names. Many of radicals here aren’t even registered in Kangxi or RTK, though.

Yeah, that’s definitely what most people say… but then again you’ve got to remember that some people complain no matter what. Kanji is hard. If it was easy, things like WaniKani, Remembering the Kanji and the million other kanji learning resources wouldn’t need to exist. But some people see it as “because it’s hard, the resources must suck”… after all, it’s not like even native speakers struggle with Kanji sometimes!

Just focus on finding what works for you, personally, WaniKani works for me (besides me being TERRIBLE at learning languages); but there’s no shame in something that works for you not working for someone else. A lesson most of the internet could do with learning!


They are planning a radicals overhall anyway so it is always worth suggesting that as a change

Well, someone is just going to love boobs!


To my mind, Longcat can also compete with Boobs grave in terms of nonsense radical…
But well, somehow, you end up remembering them.

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I haven’t come across this one yet, but i will definitely not forget “long cat”.

Can we turn this into a Radicals Appreciation Thread?

As a non-american, non-English native, I had to look up what Big Bird was supposed to mean. Is Big Bird a part of people’s childhood in America? Why? Are you guys ok?