Words with Unexpected Meanings based on the Kanji they are made of

風船 Is somehow Balloon and not Sailboat, despite being wind+boat.

What other weird meaning words trip you up from time to time?

信号. Might not be entirely in line with your example, though.

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交番 I don’t trip, though.

I find Kanji->Reading (vocalization/subvocalization) first helps, though sometimes I overdid it. I forgot the comprising Kanji. In this method, you have to know the vocab first (by pronunciation), though.


@polv You beat me to it :cry:
Even the mnemonic for that one sounded like the WK team was having trouble coming up with one. It’s really funky.

(Will put it here for those who haven’t unlocked it yet:
“I have no idea how this one works, admittedly. You mix a number in a series and you get a police box. A police box? Who would want to work in one of those? Think of it this way: all the police have to draw numbers from a hat (they’re all mixed up in there). Those who pull out the wrong numbers are on police box duty. That’s why mixed numbers in a series = police box. Do you see it?”)

For the true? origin of 交番, see


皮肉 means “irony/sarcastic”.
Kanji are literally skin + meat


For 交番 I always thought mixing numbers = mixings dates = time travel = dr. who & TARDIS = police box

Here is one: 油断 (oil + cut off) = inattentiveness.

Yeah for ones like these sometimes saying it aloud is what helps me.


I find this one explainable and memorable, though.

This one did kill me for sometime, I swear.

Guess I have a new one to look forward to soonish.

@Borx hopefully you will remember it now (:

@polv Yeah, I’ve never been able to come up with a method for 油断…Luckily though, it is short and easy to say, so it sticks with me that way. Sometimes I’ll go through my day and “ゆだん” will pop into my head and I’ll be like, “hmm, inattentiveness!”


機嫌 (machine + dislike) = mood
^ This one tripped me up for the longest time.

世辞 (generation + quit /now also “word”, but still doesn’t help much) = flattery, compliment
^ This was also one I just had to cram.

Edit: Just learned 露骨 (expose + bone) = frank, blunt.
^Makes a little sense…I feel like it is up there with 皮肉 in a way.


This one does not hurt me, because I am quite familiar with きげん, haha.

This one is quite a trouble, but somehow I made it.

I made a mistake with this one for different reasons. I typically read 露, but not 骨, so I answer ‘exposure’.

Yeah, I am much more familiar with 機嫌 now from readings than when I first learned it. I haven’t really seen 世辞 around though.

My favorite has to be

穴子 (あなご) - Conger Eel = “Hole child”


@audball @polv @Borx

YMMV, but what made 油断 easier to me is that 「油断するな!!」 (Don’t let your guard down!) comes quite often in anime.



Hopefully I’ll think back to this thread in a day or two when I Guru 油 and unlock 油断.

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Just had it in my lessons, and did indeed remember this thread.

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