Japanese

What Does Ude Mean in Japanese? | 腕, うで

According to the linguist Steve Kaufmann, one of the primary jobs of the language learner is to acquire words. The more words you learn and understand, the better you will become at all aspects of the language. So what does ude mean in Japanese?

The simply answer is that the Japanese word ude means “arm” in English. But as it turns out, there is actually a lot more to know about this particular word since it gets used in some other ways (with other meanings) quite often.

So if you’re looking to learn all there is to know about the word ude, then hopefully this article can help you on your way to achieve that.

The Basic Meaning of ude

As I mentioned before, the Japanese word for arm is ude, which is spelled in hiragana as うで and in kanji as 腕.

Now there isn’t a whole lot of depth in this basic meaning of it, so instead of continuing to talk about it, let’s look at some useful phrases that use it, and also some vocabulary that combine 腕 with other words to create something new.

腕が痛いです。
My arm hurts.

腕いっぱいに物を抱える。
grab an armful of stuff.

腕が折れて…ない!
Did I break my arm… No!

Now the most common compound word that I know of involving 腕 is 腕時計「うでどけい」which means “wristwatch” in English and is created by combining “arm” with “clock” in Japanese.

It’s kind of interesting that the Japanese compound word uses arm instead of wrist, but I’m not really sure if there is an actual reason for this or not.

Another word is the suru-verb 腕組み「うでぐみ」which means “to fold one’s arms.”

老人は腕組みをして座っていた。
The old man was sitting with his arms folded.

-Tatoeba

There is also the expresson 腕を組む which is nearly the same thing, meaning either of the two following:

  1. to fold one’s arms
  2. to link arms with someone

Finally, there is the noun 腕尽く「うでずく」which combines the word for arm and to exhuast together into a single word which means something akin to “brute force” in English.

Now that you’re pretty familiar with this usage of 腕, let’s switch things other to the other popular use of the word now.

A Different Meaning of うで

It is a pretty common thing in languages to use a body part in a metaphorical sort of way. In Japanese, the word うで gets used to mean “skill; ability” in a lot of expressions and words.

Perhaps the most common is the expression 腕がいい which literally means “a good arm” but the actually meaning of it is to be good at something.

ミクさんは、そこの調理スタッフの中で一番腕がいい。
Miku is the best cook in the kitchen.

There are also some other compound words involving 腕 that bring the connotation of ability:

  • 腕前「うでまえ」ability
  • 腕利き「うできき」able person
  • 腕によりをかける [expression] to put all one’s skill (into doing something)
  • 腕が立つ「うでがたつ」to be talented

In fact, if you see the word ude used in a phrase that doesn’t make sense at first, then there is a pretty good chance that it’s actually an expression that means something different from the literal translation. For example:

腕が鳴る「うでがなる」would literally mean “the arm cries out” which sounds pretty unusual in English, but what it actually means is “to be itching to put one’s skills to use.”

腕が鳴るのを抑えられている
to be kept waiting in the wings

Well hopefully you have a better understanding of ude in Japanese now. If you have any questions or comments, be sure to let me know!

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