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I'm trying to determine the most appropriate kanji for タコ (octopus), and have come across three possibilities: 章魚, , and .

My question: How common is each variant, and are their meanings truly equivalent? For example:

  • 英語でタコは「octopus」です。
  • 英語で章魚は「octopus」です。
  • 英語で蛸は「octopus」です。
  • 英語で鮹は「octopus」です。

My understanding is that any of the above could be considered correct (though some would seem more unusual than others) and that they all have the exact same meaning.

  • Never learned to write たこ/タコ in kanji in school. And I went to school in the only Japanese-speaking country in the world, in case you are wondering. – l'électeur Jan 17 '16 at 10:10
  • @l'électeur Yes, my impression was that it's not usually written in kanji. To clarify the intent of my question slightly: Imagine a written test where one of the questions was "How would you write 'Octopus' in Japanese?" - would the kanji examples given above be considered "technically correct, but unusual", or simply "wrong"? – GoBusto Jan 17 '16 at 10:27
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If you look at 漢字, then 蛸 is by far the most common option. This is confirmed by the frequency data in the BCCWJ (Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese, via http://nlb.ninjal.ac.jp):

タコ  676 results
蛸   129 results
ダコ   32 results
章魚   10 results
鮹     2 results
鱆     0 results

タコ is still a lot more popular than any 漢字 version. (But that's to be expected since, like many other 漢字 for animals, 蛸 is not 常用漢字 and 熟字訓 readings are very rare.)

Of course, 蛸 can also be written in ひらがな. It's not easy to get numbers, but even looking at たこやき alone, we already get big numbers:

たこ焼 244 results
タコ焼  39 results
蛸焼    1 result

Just something to keep in mind when choosing whether to write in 漢字 or not.


Edit.

The dictionary 大辞林 entry for たこ is

たこ [1]
蛸・〈章魚〉・鮹】
[...]

The notation means that the kanji is not 常用漢字 and the angled brackets mean that the reading is 熟字訓. As such, writing たこ as 蛸 or 章魚 or 鮹 wouldn't be seen as incorrect, but unusual.

  • 1
    There's also a parsed version of BCCWJ available, and although parsers like this aren't perfect, we can look at the numbers they give: 676 タコ, 129 , 32 ダコ, 10 章魚, and 2 (If you haven't accepted the agreement, you may need to click the link again after doing so; go to the 基本 tab and click 書字形 to see the numbers for yourself.) – snailboat Jan 16 '16 at 19:32
  • @snailboat Ooh, great. More than half was a reasonable estimate then. – Earthliŋ Jan 16 '16 at 20:42

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