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Japanese word for "whale"

The Japanese word for "whale" is クジラ, and I am having a hard time remembering it. Does anyone know where this word comes from? I seem to remember that not all katakana words come from abroad; it's obviously not English but also not Portuguese - I checked.

So what's with クジラ?

November 23, 2018



(Condensed, to the point answer) Some native Japanese words are also written in katakana, クジラ is one of them. This is especially common with onomatopoeia and animal words. クジラ can also be written as 鯨, but it's normally written without the kanji. 熊 (bear) can be written as クマ as well.

(some additional info) Like with 林檎, the kanji is either complicated or a bit tiring to write a lot, so it gets written in either hiragana or katakana. In this case, 林檎 is commonly written as りんご or リンゴ。I like to think of it as a contraction. You can write "wouldn't" as "would not," but it's easier to contract the word.

Hope this helps!


Thanks for refreshing my vague memory of katakana use!

As for the word itself, I guess there's nothing I can link it to? (I had seen the kanji on imiwa? but that didn't really help.)


Hmm. You can try making a mnemonic with the word: A whale is like a gorilla (クジラ), it's large and can probably kill you, a king that rules the ocean like it's its capital (京). And it's NOT a fish (魚), but a mammal!

魚+京=クジラ (the reading is irregular, so you can't link the readings of these characters)

Feel free to use that by the way, but it's mostly an example of what you can do. The more graphic and visual it is, the easier it is to recall I hear :). I normally write the kanji and practice saying the word as I do so, then use flashcards. So you might want to try that as well.

Update: Another thing. If you do use the mnemonic, once you have the word down I would ditch it since you might use it as a crutch of some sort.


I was going to suggest imagining a fight between ゴジラ and クジラ, but yours works too :)


Haha. That's the same thing I always think of whenever I see クジラ. I can't help but not think of ゴジラ at the same time. ^^


Ha, nice ideas here! I especially like your kanji story - that's the way to go. Will emulate.


Always happy to help :)


Re ditching of mnemonics: I find that my brain does that more or less automatically - e.g. I really don't need (and hardly remember) all those little stories I had to employ when I first tried to learn hiragana. す is not Superman diving down anymore...


As Even148703 has already pointed out, some people write names of animals in katakana. This is just a matter of preference.

In addition, all names of animals (and plants) are written in katakana in the academic field, even if the name has a Japanese origin (e.g. イヌ、ネコ、ウマ). This is obligatory.

e.g. subordo Cetacea クジラ目 (not くじら目、鯨目)


Interesting - I wonder why that convention exists?


Etymologically, it seems to mean "big fish": https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%AF%A8


This site (which I hadn't known about) is fascinating! @BJCUAl, @testmoogle: note that ゴジラ is a "derived term" (!)


As for the origin of the word クジラ, it has been in the Japanese language for at least 1,300 years (although it has shifted from クヂラ). I found the following very intersting to read:


There seem to be quite a few interesting theories about the etymology of the word クジラ.

I like how another word for whale was イサナ (鯨魚).

鯨 (いさ) or 勇 (いさ) "powerful, great, heroic, bravery, courage" + 魚 (な) "fish". ^^

Looking at that Wiktionary page, both 鯨 and 鯨魚 seem to be the word for whale in Chinese too (completely different pronunciation of course though).


"Coogee" (pronounced basically the same as クジ) is a pretty famous beach in Australia, not sure if that's any help :-) Strangely while my vocab is pretty rusty/limited, when I saw your question the Japanese popped straight into my head.

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