7 Ways Japanese Ki (気) Creates Interesting Meaning
気 (ki): energy, life force. A word you learned from Dragon Ball and any other battle anime. The hero will point somewhere along his stomach to chest area and explain that “this is where ki comes from.” While it may sound like 気 is a pretty unnecessary word to know, it is actually extremely common and is used to create a multitude of phrases. After all, one of the first phrases you learn “元気ですか – how are you” has it in it.
The phrases that use 気 seem to be all over the place with their creativity and unique form. And that’s why I love 気.
Literal translation: place your energy
Actual meaning: watch out, be careful
Literal translation: lose your energy
Actual meaning: become unconscious
Literal translation: make energy bad
Actual meaning: make someone feel uncomfortable, or unhappy
Literal translation: becomes energy
Actual meaning: something concerns you, something bothers you
Literal translation: there is energy, have energy
Actual meaning: have (romantic) interest in (someone)
Literal translation: use energy
Actual meaning: carefully assess a situation and act in a way that you aren’t bothering someone and are attending to someone else’s needs.
Literal translation: don’t make it energy
Actual meaning: don’t worry about it
And now you can handle your 気 like a pro. Any other interesting 気 phrase formations you know?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I was actually thinking a post on this would be good!
I had 気のせい and 気が変わった in mind. I love 気!
Oh! Don’t forget 気に入る!
気のせい has a great literal translation. It’s your energy’s fault!
I scrolled down to add 気のせい but, since that’s already taken, I’ll contribute 空気読めない (“someone who can’t read the air”) to the list.
The phrase that I always tell people English absolutely needs.
From the right person, the phrase 気になります can move mountains.
Funny thing, I’ve long-known “ki” as a term for a spiritual power, but until now I’d never connected it to 気! Thanks for the combination “d’oh!”/”awesome!” moment.
気になります is great because it can be super ambiguous.
Yeah, it’s a really interesting connection to the phrases when you break down the 気 kanji.
And for those who want to know this one, this 気 is used when you want to show willingness to do something.
But a literal translation would be “You have the energy to kill me?”
“Energy won’t move forward”
Showing that you are unwilling, reluctant or hesitant.
It’s often glossed with negative English words but I think I’ve heard it used in positive ways as well such as being eager to do something.
Yeah, I could see that based on context and tone.
This being the World cup period and all, I’ll have to add 気合 to the list.
Though I find saying that “energy” is the literal translation of “気” to be quite debatable. I’d never really checked its definition in a J-dic until now but, based on examples like the ones listed in the article, the definition of 気 I’d arrived at on my own was that it meant something like consciousness/awareness, except that at a rawer level, focusing on intentions/reactions rather than actual thoughts. Looking now at the J-dic (I use http://www.weblio.jp/ as my main dic these days), definitions ② through ⑦ confirm this view.
Honestly, if someone asked me for an example of a Japanese word I consider hopelessly untranslatable, 気 is the one I would think about, except it’s a terrible example to give because I wouldn’t even be able to explain to a westerner what it means.
In the end my view is that precisely because ethereal philosophical abstractions like “mind” or “consciousness” or “soul” or “vitality” are NOT well defined, there is no reason why different cultures would have precise analogues of those notions, and 気 is the perfect exemple of an ethereal abstraction which is so incredibly central to the way the Japanese interpret the world and that yet has no true analogue for us.
Oh, just remembered two more 気’s, which are really two for the price of one:
気取る[けどる]： to perceive something;
気取る[きどる]： acting to impress those looking at you / to imitate someone.
How I hate Kanji homographs…
Thank you! ?♀️??♀️????♀️??♀️??♀️???????