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I was texting a Japanese person, and I saw 引かれる【ひかれる】for the first time, so I searched for its meaning. I saw contradictory explanations and translations, some sources say it is the same as 惹かれる{ひかれる}, as in being attraced to someone or something.

One of the examples I found:

「蛾{が}は光{ひかり}に引{ひ}かれる」

After I had answered the text the other person explained to me that both of the kanjis have the same reading, but they mean the exact opposite, so 引{ひ}かれる would be mean being put off by someone or something. I felt really stupid and went back to research mode, and I found out about ドン引{ひ}かれる, which should mean to be put off.

My assumption is that both kanjis used to mean the same, but somewhat recently ドン引{ひ}き appeared in the common vocabulary, but it was too long so people started to drop the ドン part. Is this correct?

  • The 引かれる your friend used is the "suffering passive" form of the unacussative use of the verb 引く'to be put off', 'to be grossed out, 'to be taken aback'. So this 引かれる means (technically) 'to suffer someone's being put off (by the sufferer)' This is to be distinguished from the 引かれる 'to be pulled/attracted' in 「蛾は光に引かれる」, which is the (direct) passive form of the transitive use of 引く ('to pull/attract sth/sb'). 惹く only has this transitive use and its meaning is limited to psychological attraction. – goldbrick Apr 2 '18 at 22:01
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「引{ひ}く」 and 「惹{ひ}く」 are originally the same word "hiku". The verb "hiku" already had different meanings when Japanese was merely a spoken language. After learning the kanji from the Chinese and creating the kana on our own, we started writing some of our same original words differently according to the meanings that they are used for.

In the case of "hiku", we decided to use 「引く」 for physical "pulling" and 「惹く」 for psychological "attracting". The "connection" between the two should be clearly seen.

What makes your question this time unnecessarily tricky is that you have brought the new colloquial/slangy meaning of 「引く」 to the table. That meaning is "to get turned off", "to be put off", etc. 「ドン引{び}く」 is the emphatic form of 「引く」 only for that slang meaning.

If you are ドン引く-ing, you actually are pulling your body physically and/or pulling/drawing your mind back mentally from something. So, there still is the notion of "moving away from something" left in the new slang meaning.

If you compared the new meaning of 「引く」 to the original meaning of 「惹く」, however, the two meanings would seem quite opposite. Unless I misread your question, that is what you wanted to say.

The last thing I would like to mention is that it is nothing new that a word acquires a new colloquial/slang meaning that is very different from its "original" meaning.

Take 「適当{てきとう}」 vs. 「テキトー」, for instance. That is "appropriate" vs. "random". Pretty random, yeh?

「やばい」 vs. 「ヤバい」 for "chancy", "dubious", etc. vs. "great", "cool", etc.

This, however, is hardly a Japanese-only phenomena. Think of what happened meaning-wise to words such as "awesome", "bad", "sick", etc. If I have to learn the new meanings for those, you will have to learn the new meanings of the words I mentioned above.

  • Great answer, but just to make it crystal clear - 引く can't mean psychological attraction based on the context, right? In my example sentence the moths are instinctially drawn to the light, and not attracted by the beauty of it. Also, is it same to assume that the slang meaning is used when talking about persons? – Chris Apr 1 '18 at 13:10

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