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My dictionary says that 子年 can be read as both ねずみどし and ねどし, but when typing it in my computer, my IME only seems to convert ねずみどし to kanji.
The same goes for 卯年 (うどし and うさぎどし) and 亥年 (いどし and いのししどし).

Are both readings used? If so, which one is used more?

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It is hard for me to believe that some IME ships with a dictionary which does not contain the entries ねどし→子年, うどし→卯年, and いどし→亥年. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 4 '12 at 2:25
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The twelve signs of the Zodiac are called the 十二支{じゅうにし}, which is sometimes translated as the twelve "Earthly branches". Each of these "branches" is normally written with a particular kanji, and each has an associated animal. Although they have both ON and KUN readings, the normal reading for each (according to my 岩波{いわなみ}国語辞典{こくごじてん}) is the KUN reading.

In eight of these characters, the KUN reading is the same as the regular word for the associated animal:

丑{うし}(牛)  寅{とら}(虎)  辰{たつ}(龍)  午{うま}(馬) 

未{ひつじ}(羊)  申{さる}(猿)  酉{とり}(鳥)  戌{いぬ}(犬)

For these eight words, if you add the character 年 representing the word とし, I would expect there to be only one common reading apiece:

丑年{うしどし} 寅年{とらどし} 辰年{たつどし} 午年{うまどし}

未年{ひつじどし} 申年{さるどし} 酉年{とりどし} 戌年{いぬどし}

However, in the other four characters, the KUN reading differs from the normal name for the animal:

子{ね}([鼠]{ねずみ})   卯{う}([兎]{うさぎ})   巳{み}([蛇]{へび})   亥{い}([猪]{いのしし})  

In these cases, you could form two words. First, you could do the same thing we did earlier, and combine the words represented by the KUN readings of both characters: 子{ね} + 年{とし} = 子年{ねどし}。 Following this pattern for all four compounds, we get these words:

子年{ねどし}  [卯年]{うどし}  [巳年]{みどし}  [亥年]{いどし}

However, ね・う・み・い, while not uncommon, are somewhat less common words than ねずみ・うし・へび・いのしし. It's possible you might want to combine these words with とし instead, in which case you get these compounds as a result:

ねずみどし  うしどし  へびどし  いのししどし 

Although these aren't the same words as in our earlier list, they have pretty much the same meaning. So, we could probably write them using the same kanji, even though ねずみ・うし・へび・いのしし aren't among the normal KUN readings for those characters. (And indeed, Japanese speakers did just that.) We end up with these compounds:

[子年]{ねずみどし}  [卯年]{うさぎどし}  [巳年]{へびどし}  [亥年]{いのししどし}

And as a result, we have four compounds which can be read either way.

Are both versions used? Yes. Which is more common? I can't say, but based on my attempts to research the question, I would guess the shorter versions (such as ねどし) are more common. Perhaps someone else will be able to provide you with an answer to the frequency question.

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