In Hot Water

While making the lastest episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast this week, I noticed that there are several words for water in Japanese – something I knew but had forgotten.

  • 水 (mizu/sui) = water (esp. cool, fresh water, e.g. drinking water)​, fluid, liquid, flood(waters)
  • 湯 (yu/tō) = hot water, bath, hot spring
  • 潮 (shio/ushio/chyō) = tide, salt water, opportunity
  • ウォーター (wātā) = used in foreign placenames

If you count the different ways to pronounce the kanji as separate words, you could say that there are eight different words for water in Japanese. Mizu, yu, shio and ushio are native Japanese words, sui, tō and chyō were borrowed from Chinese, and wātā might possibly come from English.


Here are some examples of how they’re used.

  • 水曜日 (suiyōbi) = Wednesday (“water day”)
  • 水素 (suitso) = hydrogen
  • 水族館 (suizokukan) = aquarium
  • 水路 (suiro) = waterway, canal, channel, aqueduct
  • 水切り (mizukiri) = straining, draining; strainer, colander
  • 水車 (suishō) = water wheel, hydraulic turbine
  • 水辺 (mizube) = waterside, waterfront
  • 湯気 (yuge) = steam, vapour
  • 湯沸かし (yuwakashi) = kettle
  • 湯船 (yubune) = bathtube (“hot water boat”)
  • 湯水 (yumizu) = hot and cold water​; abundant / plentiful item
  • 潮流 (chōryū) = tide, tidal current​, tendency, drift, trend​
  • 潮水 (shiomizu) = seawater
  • 潮力 (chōryoku) = tidal energy

I suppose it makes sense that in a land where hot water is readily available from the many hot springs, that hot water is be seen as something different to cold water.

In Mandarin Chinese 水 (shuĭ) means water or liquid, and 汤 [湯] (tāng) means soup or hot water.

Do any other languages have separate words for cold water and hot water, or other types of water?

You could say that there quite a few words for water in various states: ice, rain, snow, sleet, hail, mist, fog, clouds, water vapour, and so on.


3 thoughts on “In Hot Water

  1. There is another word that is very commonly used for cold drinking water: お冷 (ohiya). This is the word that is generally used when asking for cold drinking water in a restaurant. Perhaps this usage is similar to “a cold one” in English, though this English phrase generally refers to beer.

  2. Unless I’m mistaken, English is missing some words to specify types of “sleet”.

    In Michigan, we sometimes get small hail on rare occasions, about the size of peas. These “hail storms” never last more than a few minutes. We also get what is called “sleet” but the stuff that comes down can really vary in appearance.

    One kind of sleet might almost be called “tiny hail”, when they are hard ice particles roughly half the size of a grain of rice. That happens when it’s very cold out. Sometimes this “tiny hail” falls just before a more conventional snowfall of ordinary snowflakes. The other kind of “sleet” is a softer, slushy “mush”. It’s easy to tell the difference: Sleet that is “tiny hail” will bounce off a car window and will swirl around in the wind without sticking to the pavement, but slushy sleet will stick to a car window and make quite a mess.

    Are there any weather experts out there that have unique words for these two kinds of “sleet”?

  3. Travis, the only term I know for asking for cold water in a restaurant is “ice water”, but normally that is what you get anyway, and so THERE, “water” means “ice water”. On occasion people will specifically ask for water without ice if they are sensitive to cold.

    People do say “a cold one” to informally mean beer, but pretty much never in a restaurant, since the term is too vague. Funny story: In my early beer drinking days, I would hang out at a place called the Wagon Wheel. When they hosted music groups there, my favorite band to have a “cold one” with was – wait for it – “Travis”.

    A few of their songs have survived. Do a YouTube search for “Travis Wagon Wheel Saloon Troy Michigan”.

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