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In the legendary first opening of Shingeki no Kyojin (aka Attack on Titan), from 0:46 to 0:53, there's a line:

とらわれた くつじょく は はんげき の こうし だ。

Almost all of that is easily understandable. Except for "こうし". After hearing this line (and generally being familiar with the context of the anime), would any more than a fraction of Japanese people know what "こうし" is referring to? If you look up on jisho.org, こうし has like 40 definitions, the top 20-ish of which are labeled as common words. But that's not the こうし being used in the song. The one that's being used in the song will be found on the second page of results, with the kanji 嚆矢, and means "the arrow used to signal the start of battle". @.@

I just want to know if the common Japanese person would be as unsure about this word (without the aid of knowing the kanji) as I am.

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    Any reasonably well read adult can guess it after a second, but average middle school kids may well have been puzzled and looked up a dictionary.
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 25 at 8:49

2 Answers 2

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嚆矢 is a rare word, but it's not exceedingly rare. Along with terms like 狼煙 and 鬨の声, it's a word you might find in fantasy or historical fiction, and even in journalists' news commentary, to symbolize the beginning of a battle or dramatic event/change. The BCCWJ has 59 instances of 嚆矢, and I've personally encountered it no less than 10 times. In the context of this anime, not a few people should be able to understand it just by hearing it. (There are many homophones in Japanese, but 反撃の光子, 反撃の講師 and so on make no sense.)

However, it's not a word everyone knows. I couldn't find any survey, but it could be a bit embarrassing if you consider yourself an intensive reader or an intellectual yet are unfamiliar with 嚆矢. For others, it's perfectly fine to be unfamiliar with it.

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    Just out of curiosity, would Japanese people generally know about 濫觴{らんしょう}? My first language is Mandarin and I've only seen 嚆矢(hāo shǐ) like once in my life, but I've seen quite some usages of 濫觴(làn shāng) across media and literature. They are synonyms and both are figurative depictions of "beginning of things". Just asking because I'm curious.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Feb 25 at 16:12
  • @dvx2718 No, I haven't seen that word.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 26 at 2:35
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    @dvx2718 On Yomiuri Shimbun full text database (ヨミダス), 嚆矢 is used in a few hundred examples, such as in "金融界のメガ再編の嚆矢", while 濫觴 seems to appear only as a proper noun or as part of a citation.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 26 at 6:16
  • +1 "it could be a bit embarrassing if you consider yourself an intensive reader or an intellectual" I want to strengthen your claim by saying that it could be embarrassing for any adult not to know the word; it's a word that is ordinarily used in journalism. (Not that it's a priority for a learner of the language.)
    – Confused
    Commented Feb 26 at 21:35
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    If I were to guess, the awareness of this word among the general public would be somewhere between 20% and 50%. As I said, whether not knowing it is embarrassing would depend on the type of person you consider yourself to be. Personally, I don't read business news much, so I feel like I encounter this word more often in manga and such :)
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 27 at 1:04
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日本人です。嚆矢という単語は知りませんでしたが、それを不安には思いません。

理由を説明しますと、JIS漢字コードに登録されている漢字は11,233字あるらしいのですが、常用漢字の数は2,000字前後なので、知らない漢字に出会うことは珍しくありませんし、日本人は自分のその後の人生に関わってこないであろう漢字は無視することが多いのです。

調べて漢字の意味を知ることがあったとしても、その反応は「この漢字はとても興味深い!いい勉強になった!」ではなく「へー」程度です。

スマホが普及し始めて、読み書きを勉強しなくても、ひらがなを漢字に変換できるのが当たり前になった今、若者を始めとした日本人の、漢字への興味関心自体が薄くなっています。

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    全然 embarrassing ではないですよね。
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 26 at 6:18
  • ご意見ありがとうございました。すごく勉強になりました。
    – chausies
    Commented Feb 26 at 18:55
  • Isn't the question whether the generic user of Japanese aware of the word, not how to write the word?
    – Confused
    Commented Feb 26 at 21:30
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    It is not commonly known or used. "反撃の狼煙" is more widely than "反撃の嚆矢"
    – login_64
    Commented Feb 27 at 13:46

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