Japanese kanji with surprising Chinese meanings

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goo Ranking recently took a look at which Japanese kanji had surprising Chinese meanings.

Demographics

Between the 23rd and 26th of March 2011 1,070 members of the goo Research monitor group completed a private internet-base questionnaire. 53.4% of the sample were female, 10.2% in their teens, 13.1% in their twenties, 24.7% in their thirties, 23.7% in their forties, 13.3% in their fifties, and 15.0% aged sixty or older. Note that the score in the results refers to the relative number of votes for each option, not a percentage of the total sample.

For this survey I believe people were provided with a list of words and asked to choose the most suprising, rather than a free choice.

UPDATE: Koichi of Tofugu made a video of the survey!


Ranking result

Q: What kanji were you surprised to learn the Chinese meaning of? (Sample size=1,070)

RankKanjiJapanese meaningChinese meaningScore
1挨拶GreetingsTorture100
2手紙LetterToilet paper80.7
3愛人LoverWife74.6
4DaughterMother64.9
5下水SewagePig guts boiled in spices63.7
6切手Postage stampTo cut one’s hand47.3
7汽車Steam trainCar46.2
8暗算Mental arithmeticTo conspire a plot40.0
9勉強StudyForce someone to do something against their will38.7
10邪心A wicked heartDreaming35.0
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15 comments »

  1. Stone said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 19:32

    Most of them are true. For 挨拶 actually there’s no such word in Chinese, I don’t think anybody would recognize them as torture. 下水 has both two meanings in Chinese, including sewage. For 邪心 I think you’ve mistaken the two meanings for each other. In Chinese it’s ‘wicked’ and ‘heart’ put together. Nobody will actually use this ‘word’ though because it’s not really a word, at least not a commonly used one.

    I’m quite astonished to know these fun facts!

  2. vbn said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 20:59

    I am a Chinese, and some of the words don’t really match the Chinese meaning stated above…
    I agree with the previous comment, just to add that 愛人 means lover in Chinese too.
    and 邪心 sounds more like evil( 邪), and heart (心).
    勉強= barely or push too hard in Chinese.

  3. lainme said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 21:13

    In most cases, “娘” means mother. But there are also situations that it means female 🙂

  4. james grey said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 22:03

    The Japanese better stop learning English and start learning Chinese. The Chinese are gonna own Japan soon.

  5. anon said,
    June 13, 2011 @ 22:50

    切手 doesnt mean “ticket” in japanese, it means “stamps” for letters.

    • Ken Y-N said,
      June 14, 2011 @ 00:04

      Ack, that’s right – I’ll correct that! Stupid mistake on my part!

  6. Cleo said,
    June 14, 2011 @ 00:18

    I notice that the Japanese have misused ke ai (kawaii). Oh, well, cultural misappropriation of intangible Chinese cultural heritage lives on.

  7. Eric said,
    June 14, 2011 @ 03:52

    I’m Chinese and have Chinese Literature degree. I must say some of these words don’t match the meaning in Chinese, at least modern Chinese.
    挨拶 — We don’t use either of these characters
    下水 — Could mean sewage in Chinese, but only in 下水道, means sewage system in an area.
    爱人 — actually means spouse, can be either wife or husband. Example: 你爱人在哪里工作?Where does your spouse work?
    邪心 — Like Stone said, two Characters together means Wicked Heart, but no body really uses that for this meaning. 野心 will be more suitable, which means ‘wicked ambition’

  8. xexexe said,
    June 14, 2011 @ 03:58

    挨拶 is not a word used in modern Chinese. An ordinary Chinese would NOT know what it means at all.

    娘 by itself most often means “mother” in Chinese, but it sounds very old-fashioned, (as in, NO ONE would call their mother 娘 nowadays). In compounds, however, it has many other meanings. 娘子 is an old word for “wife”, 姑娘 means “young girl”, etc. It can also mean “feminine” or “effeminate”.

    切手 is not a word in Chinese, either. However, since 切 = cut, and 手 = hand, a Chinese might GUESS that it means “to cut one’s hand”; again, it’s not a legitimate word.

    邪心 would mean “wicked heart” in Chinese, too. I’m not sure where you found the meaning “dreaming”. =x However, just like 切手, it’s not a commonly used word…

    • Ken Y-N said,
      June 14, 2011 @ 06:06

      Thanks for the feedback – I was just translating from the Japanese the Chinese meanings according to the survey takers! It looks like goo Ranking were a bit creative with their Chinese definitions…

  9. Eric said,
    June 14, 2011 @ 04:02

    ‘Lover’ translated into Chinese is 情人
    娘 in northern China, can mean ‘mother’ in spoken language; in some southern dialects, it can mean younger girl; or, it can also mean female professional, like 舞娘 (female dancer), 厨娘 (female cook), but we rarely use them anymore.

  10. David said,
    June 16, 2011 @ 03:39

    Some of your translation between Kanji and Chinese are not accurate such as 邪心 and 下水。

  11. Fah said,
    June 17, 2011 @ 14:53

    The university I was studying at in Kyoto is named “同志社” (Doshisha University). The word “同志” in Japanese means “same mind” or “common purpose”; the same word in Chinese was used to mean “comrade,” but it’s modern use is to mean “homosexual.” Maybe Doshisha should think about changing their name like Kinki University (近畿大学) should 🙂

  12. June 19, 2011 @ 13:30

    I laughed so hard at Study being “Force someone to do something against their will”!!! hahaha
    Basically the same thing most of the time 🙂

  13. Pat BB said,
    November 14, 2014 @ 02:38

    I don’t speak Japanese nor Chinese, but I guess that the Japanese combined ‘cut’ + ‘hand’ = ‘postage stamp’ because stamps are designed to be torn/ ‘cut’ WITH one’s hands 🙂 !

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