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I check trending words in Weblio every so often, and I always see コロナ禍. I checked the reading of the relatively rare kanji and it said わざわい which reminded me of 災い (which I believe was the kanji of 2004 and 2018). What's the difference between the two?

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The common readings of 禍 are まが (as in 禍々しい) and カ. コロナ禍 is read ころな, where this 禍 is a kind of suffix which cannot be replaced by 災い.

According to dictionaries, わざわい can be written both as 災い and 禍, but the latter is a little-known reading used almost exclusively in aesthetic writing (usually with furigana). Some novelists like to use rare kanji just to add flavor, but most people can safely stick to 災い when they write something.

Still, I personally feel a subtle difference in nuance between 災い and 禍. The kanji 禍 is often associated with supernatural ominous things like curse or demonic creatures (try an image search for 禍々しい). At least in fiction, 禍 may tend to be chosen to emphasize such "cursed", "dark" or "impure" atmosphere.

Similar examples include 哭く【なく】, 嗤う【わらう】 and 斃れる【たおれる】. These rare kanji do have subtle added nuance as compared to more mundane 泣く/笑う/倒れる, but most laypeople should not use them unless they want to be frowned upon for showing off their knowledge.

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  • "to frown upon someone or something" means "to look at a person/concept with disapproval". I wonder if that is what you meant here? – user3856370 Jun 1 at 7:29
  • I think that's what naruto meant. Maybe it's because no one likes a "show off" – rebuuilt Jun 1 at 12:59
  • @rebuuilt He probably did. I wasn't sure if he was maybe mixing it up with someone frowning due to confusion. The usage is just a little odd. – user3856370 Jun 1 at 13:17
  • @user3856370 If it was phrased "but most laypeople should not use them unless they want to be frowned upon for showing off (their knowledge)" would it be easier to understand. – rebuuilt Jun 1 at 13:22
  • @rebuuilt Yes. That would be perfect. – user3856370 Jun 1 at 13:50
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According to 新明解漢和辞典

災: 運が悪くてであうわざわい、自然のわざわいの意 「天ー」

禍: X福。ふしあわせ、思いがけのないわざわいの意 「奇ー」

災: unfortunate disaster, natural disaster

禍: opposite of 福. unhappiness, unexpected disaster

See also:

「災」は防ぎようのない天災

「禍」は人為的な努力によって防ぐことができる事柄

災い is for a natural disaster with no way of prevention.

禍 is for circumstances which can be prevented through artificial (human) effort

https://docoic.com/55173#i-2

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  • Do you have an authoritative source for this difference? The site you cited seems to be a clickbait to me, and I can easily think of exceptions like 人災 and 水禍. – naruto Jun 1 at 1:12
  • Thank you for the edit. I agree with 新明解's definition, but it seems to contradict the explanation on docoic.com. How can a human prevent a totally unexpected misfortune? – naruto Jun 1 at 2:00
  • @naruto It seems that docoic's explanation has spread to other sites as well. To answer your question, may I quote ayano.me/archives/11333. 地震などは「災」ですが、今回のコロナウイルスは人から人へ伝染するということで、人為的という意味です。(人為的なウイルスという意味ではないです) – rebuuilt Jun 1 at 13:29

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