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Breaking the Kanji from down 安否 into their constituent meanings:

  • 安: content, peaceful, quiet
  • 否: negate

Question: Why would combining (e.g.) "peaceful" with "negate" result in a meaning of "safety", when it seems like it could be ascribed the opposite meaning? Is there some etymological reason for this that might make it easier to remember?

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  • You should check how 安否 is used in real sentences. You can check, inquire, know or worry about one's 安否, but you cannot assure or improve one's 安否.
    – naruto
    Oct 30, 2022 at 2:38
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    Or you might try a monolingual dictionary. This one says 無事かどうかということ. I’m rather shocked to learn bilingual dictionaries just say “safety”.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 30, 2022 at 2:45
  • Sadly, 無事 itself is defined simply as "safety"... 無事 and 安否 are words used only when someone is/was thought to be in danger after something bad happened.
    – naruto
    Oct 30, 2022 at 3:53
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    FYI Japanese has words that combine a kanji having a certain meaning with another kanji having the opposite. 安否 is one, many others exist like 開閉 高低 明暗 男女 老若 是非 有無 大小 and so on...
    – DXV
    Nov 30, 2022 at 2:15

1 Answer 1

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It is more like or not. The following dictionary entry explicitly gives the usage:

2 …か…でないか。「安否・可否・合否・採否・賛否・実否・真否・正否・成否・存否・諾否・適否・当否・認否・能否・良否」

安否=safe or not, 可否=possible or not, 合否=(about exams) passed or not, etc.

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