WK non-radical radicals

It seems some radicals aren’t really radicals, cause I can’t find them in radical lists. Like wolverine thing I learned just now for example. What are those? Do they have a name or are those just common patterns that aren’t radicals?
Also, I’m sure it’s mentioned every now and again, but it’d be great if there weren’t so many fake radical names. Like 母 which is called “drawer” here and I actually have to remember it to proceed. It’s mother as well as kanji, though.

The WaniKani radicals are not the same as dictionary radicals. They may use some of the traditional radicals and rename them, but a lot of them are entirely made up. Sometimes just using the meaning of the kanji they resemble. They’re just tools used for the sake of the mnemonics.


Yes, they’re just common patterns being called “radicals” when in reality the term “radical” and it’s usage is in conflict. At the end of the day WK just uses what it thinks will help people learn more efficiently.

If you really care, you can say plug in terms from the kanxi radicals into the synonyms. Some people just use override or input “fake” instead. The problem with these solutions is that completely abandoning existing radicals means abandoning the mnemonics used for the kanji. While some people get a lot of benefits from making up their mnemonics it’s basically throwing away a huge chunk of what makes WK convenient. Another thing worth noting is that WK is in the middle of doing a massive overhaul to radicals and mnemonics that should improve things (and possible even fix the 母 issue as well as related radical/kanji pairs).

For the most part I don’t see a reason to care. Radicals are more or less irrelevant unless you’re taking some sort of specialized exam or are interested in the topic. Unless you fall into one of the edge cases that needs to know them the radicals pretty much only stick around long enough to learn kanji.

tl;dr - read Borx’s post


WaniKani’s “radicals” are more like kanji parts. Even then, some of them are still made up.

I realized that some names are made up but didn’t realize there’s more to it. Your explanation made me change the way I see them. I don’t mind any of it, but I wish WK itself explained it with some sort of disclaimer, cause the made up radicals confused the hell out of me.

For WaniKani, it’s best to think of the radicals as building blocks used to break the kanji up into parts to make learning them easier. And to think of them as entirely separate from the dictionary radicals. It’s just simpler to take a kanji character like 監 and break it up into servant, gun, ground, and plate than to think of it as a series of strokes. Then you can take those building blocks and form a mnemonic, “The servant disassembles a gun on the ground and puts the pieces on a plate while you oversee him. Then you throw all of the pieces into a can (かん).”

It’s all about taking the concept of dictionary radicals and expanding on it as a tool to teach the thousands of kanji you have to learn in a more efficient manner.

I STILL haven’t burned “drawer.”


I always add synonyms with the definition of the kanji when it doesn’t match the radical. In case anyone is interested here’s a comprehensive list of kanji radicals and components. Radicals and Components - Kanshudo

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I added ‘mother’ as a synonym for ‘drawer’.


I’m curious, does wanikani (only available as en-ja) help you with your English? You mentioned being non-native (though you seem quite fluent to me). Are there ever english words you need to look up?

Have you burned the radical 母 / drawer ?

  • Yes! Scout’s honour!
  • No. (Answer this if you added synonyms or used scripts)
  • I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

0 voters

The wolverine radical actually is a pig’s head or snout, and the reasoning for the kanji that contain it is probably inexplicable a few thousand years after their invention.

Going for the original is maybe better to understand the historical connections between different kanji, and maybe you could divine their original meaning, but I doubt that such knowledge is really relevant or helpful to learn the kanji nowadays. It’s better to have memorable and fun components that can build an interesting story.

Yet nothing stops you from studying the real radicals, they are just not the best method to remembering the kanji they build.

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Yes there are - mainly in the explanations. Tater tots for example. They’re very prominent in wanikani, but I’ve never heard of it before. Likewise, there is a lot of other slang expressions which I hadn’t known before. And sometimes you kind of know what is meant by it, but it’s difficult to remember. Like “creeper”. I hate creeper kanji. Also sometimes I have to have an “English thought” (for lack of a better word) before I think of a Japanese sentence, so I’d have to translate some words to English first (though that’s not really a problem). Overall, it’s rather strange… I noticed this the first time when I tried to explain some Japanese concepts to others.

I rarely open English dictionary, except for certain slangs and pop cultures, such as cooties, TIE fighter…

I have no issue with spelling too. But I heard WaniKani helps many people in this regard.

Except sometimes the original radical meanings can be better than the made up ones.

For example, 忄is IMO better to remember as “heart” than “fish stick”, as the kanji that it appears in often have to do with feelings, like hate 憎 or worry 悩 or feeling 情. And 扌is IMO better remembered as “hand” than “nailbat”, because the kanji have often to do with hands or manipulating things with hands, like finger 指 or hold 持 or beckon 招.

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I agree with 忄, for some radicals the actual meaning is much better. It’s definitely very easy to remember 「忙しい」 (busy) as “heart death” (heart attack due to stress?). I think the motivation was that heart is already taken up by 心 (actually the same thing?), so something new was required.

For 扌, I think many radicals actually represent hands, so maybe using it as a general rule makes the mnemonics too generic.

The best way may be to be free in coming up with new radical definitions, but sometimes fall back to their actual meaning.

I remember 扌 as a finger. I think my idea was taken from Heisig’s RTK, but I am not so sure.

I find original radicals more memorable in one more instance… 示 and 衣. Another one might be 牧 and 冬.

That one is the hand radical. Some others might be tangentially related to hands, I don’t know, but they’re certainly nowhere near as common.

Hmm, really?
Top part of 左、右
Right hand: ⼜ (as in 友)
Folded hands: ⼶
Hand: ⺘, ⼿
Hand holding something: ⼹
Top and bottom elements sometimes appear as hands of this: 愛
Top here: 学

Some may not always be interpreted as a hand in any case, but it’s not none.