Why would one use 当て字?


I came across 当て字 in my N1 vocabulary list, and while I think I understand what it is from the definition "kanji used as a phonetic symbol, rather than for its meaning", I'm not sure what the point of that is--there's already hiragana and katagana to do that.

What is the purpose or purposes of 当て字?


Posted 2014-01-09T02:47:01.403

Reputation: 565

Makes what you're saying seem more classical? Gives you a cooler looking sign? すし vs 寿司 – virmaior – 2014-01-09T03:05:25.653

4Technically a lot more stuff is ateji than you might realize, but stuff like 亜米利加 instead of アメリカ isn't as important.. just good to know. – ssb – 2014-01-09T03:19:56.260

From my impression of it, new uses of 当て字 are few and far between, but they used to be a lot more common, and what we see are hold-overs from that. – silvermaple – 2014-01-09T04:37:24.057

当て字 in contemporary Japanese might be not be that common, but the practice was rather more common in pre-war Japanese. – virmaior – 2014-01-09T07:10:12.337

1Like ssb implies, you probably use 当て字 fairly often without realizing it. After all, how many people write とけい/トケイ instead of 時計 to avoid using 当て字? (Not many, I don't think.) – snailcar – 2014-01-09T08:49:01.607


I think some part of this answer may apply to this question. It helps to delineate sentence elements (i.e. text in all kana is harder to read), and it can disambiguate words that may share the same kana spelling.

– Flaw – 2014-01-10T12:00:38.410

@snailboat Actually, I don't think 時計 is considered ateji, as the kanji are both meaningful (time for 時 and measure for 計). I checked tangorin.com to verify this: http://tangorin.com/general/tokei This is in contrast to, say, 寿司, which doesn't make much sense kanji-wise, and is displayed as a "phonetic reading": http://tangorin.com/general/sushi

– rhyaeris – 2016-02-05T09:18:15.513

@rhyaeris Ateji is a very general term. It can mean the meaning is ignored or the readings are ignored. 明鏡国語辞典 defines it this way, and so does Japanese Wikipedia. In this case, the kanji are meaningful but the reading is assigned to both kanji as a whole, ignoring the individual readings. (Tangorin is just an interface to EDICT, which doesn't really categorize things like this very well.) – snailcar – 2016-02-05T13:36:36.923

@snailboat hmm, but Japanese Wikipedia has this to say: "当て字...とは、字の本来の用法を無視して" (on the 当て字 page). English Wikipedia says: "ateji (当て字, 宛字 or あてじ?, "called upon characters") principally refer to kanji used phonetically to represent native or borrowed words without regard to the underlying meaning of the characters." Both definitions state that ateji means meaning is disregarded, which is not the case for 時計. Additionally, these pages list 時計 as jukujikun, not ateji: http://m.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/detail/q1275193612 ... https://ja.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%99%82%E8%A8%88 .

– rhyaeris – 2016-02-05T14:56:43.253

The english wikipedia quote above can be found on the Ateji page. Also, the Kanji page says this about jukujikun: "Jukujikun are when the standard kanji for a word are related to the meaning, but not the sound" – rhyaeris – 2016-02-05T14:58:37.403

@rhyaeris Jukujikun is a type of ateji, as the Japanese Wikipedia page for 当て字 explains. – snailcar – 2016-02-05T15:55:02.673

@snailboat I see, I stand corrected. Sorry about that. "When a native Japanese word is written as a compound by meaning only, and this spelling is established in the language, as in otona (大人?, adult), the word is the semantic variety of ateji, and is known specifically as 熟字訓 (jukujikun 'established meaning-spellings')." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ateji

– rhyaeris – 2016-02-05T16:18:02.283



According to wikipedia,


I.e. if they are written in hira-kana/kata-kana, it would be difficult to discern where the word starts/ends. Nowadays however, kata-kana has taken over this function. 当て字 are still useful though as they are more compact than the kata-kana counterpart. Newspapers tend to prefer 当て字 for this reason; e.g. USA is referred to as 米 instead of the more lengthy form アメリカ

Enno Shioji

Posted 2014-01-09T02:47:01.403

Reputation: 12 462

2Shortening of アメリカ to 米 in newspapers has nothing to do with 当て字 --- none. – l'électeur – 2014-02-25T15:21:46.530

4Well it obviously comes from the 当て字 亜米利加. You couldn't do the abbreviation with kata-kana, in which case it would be ア @TokyoNagoya – Enno Shioji – 2014-02-25T15:45:07.123

... or メ, presuming that ア would already be used for Asia, of course. – Earthliŋ – 2014-02-25T16:07:43.703

1@Earthliŋ I remember reading in Henshall's book that メ is an old reading for 米, which is why it got used in the ateji 「亜米利加」. Of course, 日本国語大辞典 backs up what Enno Shioji says: 「米」は「アメリカ」のあて字「亜米利加」の略 – snailcar – 2014-02-26T02:13:34.853