In the course of my study I've come across several words which all seemed to have a high degree of overlap, in that they all essentially meant 'to tease, to bully, to torment'. If possible I'd like to know if the following words really are as similar as dictionaries would make them seem:

  • [苛]{いじ}める
  • [虐]{いじ}める
  • [苛]{さいな}む
  • [甚振]{いた・ぶ}る
  • [焦]{じ}らす
  • [揶揄]{から・か}う
  • [詰]{なじ}る
  • [嬲]{なぶ}る

Many thanks.


2 Answers 2


First of all, I rarely see most of them at least in newspapers. It might be used in some literature. Also, I am pretty sure we don't write these in Kanji usually. But here are my personal thoughts.

いじめる implies physical abuse. I sometimes see 虐める in the sense of 虐待{ぎゃくたい} such as child abuse, sexual abuse etc. I see 苛める pretty rare.

I usually see さいなむ in a passive tense, [苛]{さいな}まれる. It means a person is psychologically stressed by something. I rarely see using it for a physical stress.

いたぶる is close to いじめる, implies physical abuse, but I don't see it often.

じらす is different. It means keeping someone in suspense.

For me, からかう、なじる、なぶる all implies verbal abuse. からかう is a common word, but we rarely use the latter two.


This is a long intro to explain a concept. Bear with me.

If you think of the lexical inventory of a language as a patchwork quilt, with each lexeme/patch covering a specific aspect of the lived reality/experience of the language’s native speakers, languages which are related have similar arrangements of patches. Unrelated languages have dissimilar arrangements.

The arrangements of English and Japanese are very different. Take “run” and 走る. 男の子が走っている overlaps closely with “the boy is running,” but 車が走っている doesn’t mean “the car is running.” It means “the car is in motion.” To say “the car is running” you’d have to say something like エンジンがかかっている, ie something totally different.

If you look at the dictionary entry for 走る, the dictionary compilers try to communicate all the different meanings, but ultimately you have to look at it from the perspective of inside the language, and not via J>E dictionary entries. All of those words, when translated into English, do come out sounding very similar, but in Japanese, the way they are used is very different.

  • Thank you truly for the sincerity of this comment. However, I am aware of the value of comparing native definitions of similar words; I was asking this question mainly for the insight that a human can bring which a dictionary doesn't, such as their 'feel', nuances, commonness, etc. Sep 26, 2018 at 22:16
  • You’ll only get that when you are fluent enough in the language to encounter these words in a native context.
    – Marc Adler
    Sep 26, 2018 at 22:29

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