WK's Weird Words

So, I’ve seen a few people mention “weird” words that WK features as vocab. I came across one today. I wanted to say something about the invention of the steam engine, not knowing the real word for it, I made up the word 湯気エンジン. My teacher immediately started laughing. Apparently 湯気 only refers to the steam coming from things like food or tea.

I remember someone else saying there’s a word about madness that he used and got told it was rather outdated and even a bit offensive. Anyone else had experience of using words from WK that didn’t mean what they thought? Might be useful to share real life experiences to help others avoid the same mistake (although, making those mistakes is quite funny so maybe it’s more interesting to let people make them).


I don’t know if that’s WK’s fault. It’s just an English word that has two different translations in Japanese. The “steam” for “steam engine” is 蒸気 and it’s featured in level 33. “Steam engine” itself would be 蒸気機関.

Since WK only teaches kanji and not grammar or lexicology, it doesn’t tell you that 湯気 is steam from tea and 蒸気 is steam for the engine.

Eh, I think this case might be forgivable, but to be honest, I really wish it would explain a bit more the actual definition of the word, sometimes. It’s one thing not to write up a long explanation about the precise contexts in which a certain word would or wouldn’t apply, but sometimes I feel like I have only the vaguest sense of how a word is used. Like, 開発. The definition given is ‘development’. (Or I hope this is development, anyway - this is one of the worst ones I can never seem to remember.) But what does that mean? A singular development, like a new happening or change? Development in general, like the process of creating something? ‘Development’ itself is already such a vague word, and the definition section gives me basically nothing at all to work with. (Also, nothing to remember - I keep getting it mixed up with the kanji for ‘presentation’, which…I’ve already forgotten again.) I get that WK teaches kanji and kanji only, but do I really know a kanji if all I can do is associate it with a single English word without any idea of what sense of the English word applies?



I’m right there with you in regards to 開発 (development) and 発表 (presentation). My notes “I’m standing in a new housing *development*, and there are coyotes (かい) wearing brand new hats (はつ)”.

Also, I learned just a few months ago about Weblio. I now use it everday to check what types of sentences Kanji are written in. 「開発」に関連した英語例文の一覧と使い方 - Weblio英語例文検索

Also Tatoeba - Sentences with: だいたい - Tatoeba

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I had a similar experience with my teacher, I think I used お前 to address a fellow student, and my teacher pointed out that it was a bit weird to use it in that context. I only thought of the translation as ‘you’, but was unaware when I was supposed to use it. I would like some extra pointers too on the nuances of certain words.

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That’s a funny coincidence - in the same lesson and in the same context I wanted to use the word development and used 展開. That, according to my teacher, is quite an unusual word - can be used for things like develop a market, she said. The best word in most cases (collocates with culture, human, social, technology etc) is 発展.

And I agree overall - I don’t need or want a whole long explanation. Just the same type of thing some words already have. 湯気, for example, just needs something like: “This word typically refers to the steam from food and drinks. You’ll learn the word for steam power later.”

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It’s good practice to just look up every new word in a J-J dictionary when you do the lesson. As long as you have it open at the same time it only adds a little time to each one.

Indeed. 開発 is luckily the general word for development - for example my future major (i hope) will be international development studies → 国際開発研究科
and within the subject, development policy studies → 開発政策コース
Well, not the best of examples but still.

Ahh, I should write this down. o_o
/me jots down a meaning-note

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I kinda agree with you. On the other hand, it can also make the “meaning” explanation a bit long (and potentially confusing, especially for non-native English speakers) for some vocabs, especially if there are more than 2 Japanese words/phrases in use for one English phrase. Also I think the WK people hope we could gather a bit of the meaning context from the example sentences, which I admit I almost never read.

I think the word for madness might be 気違い? I told a Japanese native that I just learned that word and she warned me that it, in her opinion at least, it was quite offensive. Just a heads up.

I guess in most languages words that depict mental illness over times becomes derogatory.

There is a phenomenon called “euphemism treadmill” where a word that was invented to soften a derogatory word becomes derogatory itself as time goes on, and is then replaced by another one.



Maybe suggest this to hello@ ?

I think at the level we learn 湯気, many users are not going to be able to follow a J-J dictionary. I certainly can’t.

I guess there’s a general correlation between WK level and Japanese ability, but I passed N3 before I even started WK… it depends on the person.

I practically read Goo for every entry in core 10k breakdown, anyway.

And sometimes I add new entries from WaniKani to Anki. In that case, I also look up Goo. I rarely use Jisho or Tatoeba nowadays.

WaniKani doesn’t always cover all meaning. One of which I remembered is 余裕.

As for me, I think 伝統 (tradition) is weird. Transmission of… unity, perhaps? Somehow that meant ‘tradition’.

There are much more illogical ones out there. A tradition that is passed along 伝 for no other reason than that it’s something everyone in a group does 統.

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Recommend replacing Tatoeba with Eow/ALC.
Eow → often real material
Tatoeba → generally unvetted

Make a free Eow (Pro Lite) account for sentence searching.
then use ログイン:英辞郎 on the WEB Pro / Pro Lite

even better add them to Chrome’s address bar open search

  1. In Settings → Manage search engines:
  2. Add these two (first is definition and phrasal usage, second is sentences)
  3. type eows[tabkey] in address bar
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On the topic of steam there is also 汽. It seems to be generally used for industrial kind of terms like wanikani teaches 汽船 and 汽笛. Also 汽車 and 汽缶

That will entirely depend on what dictionary you are using. You could use the one used by NHK News Easy, for example, which is entirely understandable, I think (and good reading practice).