2

Is 苦手 etymologically related to 苦い? Does the former derive from the latter? Does the fact that they have the same root kanji make this obvious, or is there something about 手 that also gives me information about the word? I'd be doubly happy to learn that there's some pattern I haven't yet learned.

I don't own the Nihongogen, so I can't look it up there, and Wiktionary doesn't connect the two.

I'm guessing I'm asking something fairly obvious if I keep learning, but I admit my curiosity is getting the better of me now.

1
  • [Marking this complete for now, but if anyone has any additional information, I would still very much appreciate it!]
    – cmw
    Aug 5, 2023 at 22:36

1 Answer 1

1

Quoting to this website (in Japanese):

苦手とは、不得意であることやつきあいにくい相手を意味する。「苦い」は味覚の一種だが、甘・塩・酢・苦の基本味覚の中でもヒール(悪役)を演じているように、「苦い」は、不愉快である、つらい、苦しいといった感覚、感情を言い表すのに使う。「苦手」は、取り扱ったり、つきあったりするのが難しいので、できるなら相手にしたくない(きらいな)対象を意味する。例えば「勝負事は苦手です」と言えば、「いつもコロ負けしているので賭け事に手を出したくない」ということ。「苦手」を直訳すると、「なめると苦い味のする手」で、漢方薬を扱っている薬剤師の手みたいなことになるが、この解釈は冗談ではなく、江戸時代に「苦手」と言えば、「爪が苦く毒を持ち、触れると腹痛を抑えたり、ヘビをつかまえたりできる手」を意味していた。まさに、腹痛の「手当て」であり、ヘビを素手で捕らえる「ゴッドハンド」だった。しかし、そんなパワーを持っていたにしても、いまどき「手が苦いから」などと解釈する人もいないので、「手」が「相手」や「傾向」の意味に解釈されて現在の「苦手」の使い方に落ち着いたものと思われる。

In short, 苦手 in the Edo period used to refer to the hand of the pharmacist(serving traditional Chinese medicine) who put bitter drugs/poison on their nails and thereby could heal stomach-ache by touching or could catch snakes. Even those the meaning changed today, the 苦 did in fact mean 苦い.

3
  • Thanks! Do you know how authoritative that website is? Is this a folk etymology, or something that is more secured in history? Seems plausible enough.
    – cmw
    Apr 3, 2023 at 14:03
  • Well, if I were to translate the website, I'd focus on the "supernatural" meaning which can actually be confirmed by several (free online versions of) reviewed Japanese dictionaries, e.g. kotobank.jp/word/%E8%8B%A6%E6%89%8B-591113 I didn't know about this historical usage of the word, I'm glad to learn more about the Japanese language at this age (late 30s). However I have to point out "drugs on the nails" part is the website author's own research which doesn't cite any literature. Which is to say, the etymology seems to be unclear.
    – nodakai
    Apr 3, 2023 at 15:26
  • @nodakai The strange thing is that having powerful hands seems to be the opposite of being bad at something!
    – cmw
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .