Q: Kanji for "gossip"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Apr 29 02:52:12 UTC 2009

Joel S. Berson wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Q: Kanji for "gossip"?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I had written elsewhere:
>> I am reminded that (I was told) the character (Kanji) for "gossip"
>> is composed from that for "woman" written three times.
> A correspondent replied:
>> Out of curiosity I asked an old friend of mine who lived in China
>> for years if this is true and he replied
>> no, it means "adultery" or "rape":
>> http://zhongwen.com/cgi-bin/zipux2.cgi?b5=%AB%C1
> Was I told an urban folk tale?  I was told "gossip" around 1990 in a
> Japan Tourist Bureau bus by a middle-aged woman guide entertaining
> the passengers while we were delayed by congested weekend traffic
> heading south from Tokyo.  I had "known" this from reading some
> casual introduction to Japanese writing shortly earlier.  (It's
> probably impossible today for me to recover the identity of the book,
> so I won't even try.)  I took my oral source as reputable:  she was a
> Second World War widow who had become a teacher and then a travel
> guide -- I suspect remarkable initiative for a Japanese woman of the time.
> I wonder what allusion, image, or allegory leads a character composed
> of three of those for "woman" to be created as, or taken for,
> adultery, rape, or seduction.  None of those requires 3 women, and
> all (at least in the times when the Japanese, or probably the
> preceding Chinese, characters were being invented) require one
> man.  Even adultery would seem to require two men and but one woman
> -- the married woman, her husband (to document the married state?),
> and the male transgressor.
> In Japan, might the character have an additional meaning of "gossip"?

One might speculate that the three women originally stood for an
'immoral' man's multiple victims/partners-in-impropriety -- likely
stereotypically wives and daughters of his neighbors, I suppose.

In Japanese there is the additional reading "kashima[shii]" ("noisy" or so):


This character may have been used in this way originally as a joke, I

The gloss "gossip" is perhaps tangential.

As usual I defer to any expert.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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