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I saw that both can mean liver. Is there a specific context for each of these words? Some situation where it would be more correct to use one and not the other.

And i read that is also used as a metaphor for the most important part of something, can someone give me an example?

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肝 and 胆 refer to different organs.

  • 肝臓【かんぞう】: The most common word for "liver".
  • 肝【かん】: The same as 肝臓, but medical experts prefer this, especially in writing, because it's shorter.
  • 胆嚢【たんのう】: Gallbladder, not liver.
  • 胆【たん】: Medical experts prefer this to 胆嚢.
  • 肝 • 胆: It's not a single word, but just "liver and gallbladder". These two organs are often paired like this because they form the hepatobiliary system.

As food, liver is called レバー or キモ. You would see them at yakiniku restaurants.

Metaphorically, 肝心【かんじん】 (na-/no-adj) and 肝【きも】 (noun) refers to the most important point of a procedure or information. You can say "肝心なのは80℃以上に温めないことです", "ここが肝ですよ、よく聞いてください", etc. 肝心 is sometimes spelled as 肝腎, too, but I believe 肝心 is more common.

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  • たぶん、質問中の「肝・胆」って「肝と胆」ではなく「肝【きも】もしくは胆【きも】」という意味ではないかと思うのですが… Apr 24 '20 at 2:53
  • @broccoli ああそうかも…いやどうなんでしょう…基本は普通に肝臓の話ということでいいような…。とりあえず、胆もキモって読めるということは忘れてたのでそこは直します
    – naruto
    Apr 24 '20 at 3:13
  • というか「きも」というのはかなり古層の語で必ず肝臓にあたるとは言えないんですよね(はらわた以外は全部きも)、なので複数の表記がある… Apr 24 '20 at 3:20
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肝臟 simply means “liver”.

I suspect 肝•胆 might have come from a longer phrase,肝胆相照らす.

It comes from the Chinese idiom, “肝膽相照”, which describes two inseparable friends, as well as the frankness they show each other.

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