Are the kanji in 世話【せわ】 as in 世話になります used for their meaning, or are they ateji? If they aren't ateji, what exactly is the reasoning?

2 Answers 2


Not being of Chinese origin does not necessarily imply being ateji (in the sense of only borrowing a kanji's sound with no or hardly any respect to its meaning). 文化、文明、民族、思想 are (according to the Japanese wikipedia) 和製漢語 as well, but do they qualify as ateji? Also 大根 (広辞苑). Conversely, there are words of Chinese origin where each character is used for its sounds only, eg many imported religious terms.

According to gogen-allguide and 広辞苑, 世話 originally signified exactly what the kanjis suggest: "common talk", 日常語, 口語. It then acquired the additional sense of 日常的なもの, an object of daily life; and 面倒をみる (look after/take care of sb.) during the Edo period.

As for the shift to its current sense, there are various hypotheses: (a) It derives from 忙【せわ】しい, which would make the spelling 世話 ateji; or (b) it is an extension of the original meaning, 「人の為に言葉を差し挟む意から」(広辞苑) (words spoken in the interests of a particular person).

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    @TokyoNagoya I don't think this user has to provide proof of "knowing Japanese" to provide an answer, which cites decent sources. What part of this answer made you downvote it? The part "Not being of Chinese origin does not necessarily imply being ateji"?
    – Earthliŋ
    Jan 1, 2014 at 14:54
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    This answer cites sources, which is a good thing. This is very different from plagiarizing, which this answer does not do.
    – user1478
    Jan 1, 2014 at 16:58
  • How did it go from being common talk to being words in the interest of a particular person?
    – user3457
    Jan 1, 2014 at 19:20
  • That it did actually go from being common talk to that is only speculation, or at least not the generally accepted and well-founded etymology. I can only speculate regarding the kind of metaphor or thought people had in mind when they first started using せわ in this sense. Perhaps somebody here can illustrate the transition with excerpts in contemporary texts.
    – blutorange
    Jan 1, 2014 at 19:47

[世話]{せわ} is a [和製漢語]{わせいかんご}, a Japan-made, Chinese-looking word. It does not exist in Chinese even though it is an on-reading word.

Thus, the kanji combination「世話」is only an ateji.

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