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While having fun looking up random words in my dictionary software, I found out that the phrase "めちゃめちゃ", which is often used in colloquial sentences like "めちゃめちゃかわいい" has two kanji variants:

滅茶滅茶
目茶目茶

For the first variant, 滅茶滅茶, I can imagine the significance of 滅, which implies "destruction", but why with "tea"? The second variant is even absurd (or can I use "mecha-mecha" as a pun here :P), because it's from "eye" and "tea".

Does the kanji character "茶" has any significance in the phrase, or are they just ateji?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

That's just ateji「当て字」, but they used like that because

  • 滅茶滅茶 related with 滅茶苦茶/無茶苦茶 (muchakucha) and base word is 無茶,
  • There is some saying that 無茶 supposed to mean お客さんにお茶を出さない。 (No o-cha?)
    (Don't provide tea to customer, which is unreasonable just like 無茶苦茶. But meaning from 当て字 are not suppose to be used, so above is wrong approach.
  • There is also another saying that 無茶 comes from Buddhist word 無作 (musa/musaku), which has meaning むさぼる (greedy, covet) and 苦茶 is just to emphasize the former.

ref: http://gogen-allguide.com/mu/muchakucha.html

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Just to clarify: According to the page, it is sometimes incorrectly explained that the origin of the words 無茶 and 苦茶 relates to tea. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 6 '11 at 13:11
    
@Tsuyoshi Ito, heheh, I just read the first line. I will update with more info. –  YOU Jun 6 '11 at 13:18
    
Updated @Tsuyoshi. Let me know my translation is not ok. –  YOU Jun 6 '11 at 13:41
    
Thanks. I think that your translation is fine. Just to add, 無作 (むさ) here is a Buddhist word and not in common use nowadays. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 6 '11 at 13:45
    
Thanks again, updated. –  YOU Jun 6 '11 at 13:48
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I don't think that the kanji have any specific meaning and are just used for their sounds, ergo Ateji.

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Any reason why even use kanji at all? Why not just stick to kana for this kind of onomatopoeia phrases? –  Lukman Jun 6 '11 at 7:26
    
@Lukman: Because it makes you look all cultured and intellectual-like, of course! :) –  Derek Schaab Jun 6 '11 at 20:48
    
At one point in time (pre-Meiji era) it was customary to assign Kanji to all new words that were imported. It's become less of a concern in the modern age, however. –  Kaji Mar 30 at 8:36
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