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.

  • [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


Quoting to this website (in Japanese):


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.

  • 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

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