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In wondering how to expressing the act of picking one's nose in Japanese I came across the following term or terms:

穿る / ほじる / ほじくる

I got the feeling from WWWJDIC that the two hiragana are synonymous but differently sounding readings of the one kanji term. And further that the kanji spelling itself is not used currently.

Is this correct? Or are ほじる and ほじくる different in some way? Should 穿る be used or avoided?

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I'm Japanese and couldn't read the kanji... orz... p.s. Oh I've seen that kanji, in 穿く! –  Choko Apr 25 at 7:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I searched The Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese (BCCWJ) using the freely accessible 少納言 tool. I found the following results:

  (はな|鼻)を?ほじ[ら-ろっ]    8 results
  (はな|鼻)を?ほじく[ら-ろっ]   4 results
  (はな|鼻)を?穿[ら-ろっ]     0 results

To explain the above, and to explain how to reproduce these results:

  1. I used the regular expression pattern (はな|鼻)を?$ in the 前文脈 ("preceding context") field to mean "search term is preceded by はな or 鼻 optionally followed by を".
  2. I used the regular expression pattern ^[ら-ろっ] in the 後文脈 ("following context") field to mean "search term is followed by any hiragana in the /r/ row or small っ".
  3. For the search term itself, in which regular expressions are not allowed, I used ほじ, ほじく, and 穿 respectively.

The results I found are fairly small in number, but if they reflect wider usage accurately, they indicate that the most common collocation is 鼻をほじる—although 鼻をほじくる is used as well—and they indicate that neither ほじる nor ほじくる is commonly written in kanji in this phrase. (In all twelve results, I found that 鼻 was written in kanji, not kana.)

Based on this, I recommend writing 鼻をほじる in this particular context.

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Looking in dictionaries, it doesn't seem like a hard rule, but I get the impression that while both ほじる and ほじくる are used in the literal sense, to pick or dig, when used in the figurative sense, to pry, usually ほじくる is used.

And further that the kanji spelling itself is not used currently. Is this correct?

That's a slight modification of what I find:

[Q] Why do some entries have the kana part first with the kanji following in <<...>>?
[A] That happens with entries that are tagged as "uk" (usually kana). Since the kanji forms are less common, it makes sense to display the more common kana forms first.

It's usually written with kana, but that's not necessarily a specifically "current" phenomenon.

Don't mean to nitpick, but another comment:

... synonymous but differently sounding readings of the one kanji term.

While not wrong, I think the better way to think about on'yomi is: "The same kanji applied to two (near-)synonyms". That's not uncommon, by the way e.g. 食{く}う and 食{た}べる. Here the okurigana makes the reading clear, though.

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