Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nekomimi 猫耳 - Meaning

Have you ever heard the word nekomimi 猫耳 thrown around and asked yourself: just what is nekomimi? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that nekomimi is a word closely associated with cat girls in anime, but exactly what does the word mean in Japanese?

Neko 猫, Mimi 耳 and Nekomimi 猫耳

Well, nekomimi 猫耳 is actually two words joined together. The first one, neko 猫, as you might have guessed, means "cat," one of the words for animals in Japanese. The other, mimi 耳, means "ear," it's a word for the many body parts of the body. Together they, uh, form "cat-ears," or sort of, which is one of the many attributes of cat girls in anime.

What is nekomimi and the difference between nekomimi and cat ears show in a diagrama with the character Hakase from the anime Nichijou.

Do Cats Have Nekomimi?

Though nekomimi does mean "cat ears" in Japanese, nobody calls a cat's ears nekomimi in Japanese.

Because that would be redundant.

Nobody would point to a cat"cat" and say it has "cat ears." That's obvious. You'd end up saying neko no nekomimi 猫の猫耳, "cat ears of the cat," and we got neko twice there.

So instead people just say "the ears of the cat," neko no mimi 猫の耳, without saying the word for "cat ears" nekomimi.

With this, nekomimi is is only used for people who have or wear cat ears, never for the cats themselves.

Does Nekomimi Mean Cat Girl in Japanese?

Cat girls usually have nekomimi, but they also have more than just the "cat ears." They can have, for example, a tail, shippo 尻尾, and, sometimes, a "collar" too, kubiwa 首輪, and often say nya にゃ, nyaa にゃー or nyan にゃん.

So the word nekomimi doesn't mean "cat girl" because they're only one of the many attributes a complete "cat girl" would have.

Further, nekomimi being literally "cat ears" the word doesn't specify in what exact form are the "cat ears."  More specific accessory words can be made by combining nekomimi with another word.
  • nekomimi boushi 猫耳帽子
    Cat-ears hat.
    Cat-ears cap.
  • nekomimi huudo 猫耳フード
    Cat-ears hood.
  • nekomimi paakaa 猫耳パーカー
    Car-ears hoodie.

Examples:


How to Say Cat Girl in Japanese?

Like I literally just explained, nekomimi is a word for an attribute and doesn't really mean "cat girl," then how do you say cat girl in Japanese? What is the word for cat girl?

It's a bit complicated.

For starters, there are multiple ways of saying "girl" in Japanese. Specially in made-up words like these. In such cases, you say either shoujo 少女, joshi 女子 or musume 娘 after a given trait of a character to talk about characters with that given trait.

So, for girls whose trait is cat-ears, that is, for cat-ears wearing girls, the words would be:
  • nekomimi musume 猫耳娘
    nekomimi joshi 猫耳女子
    nekomimi shoujo 猫耳少女
    Cat girl.
    Cat-ears girl.

It's also possible to add the verb tsukeru 付ける, "to attach (cat-ears, etc.)" to the words above. Though that's unnecessary so these would be much rarer :
  • nekomimi-tsuki musume 猫耳付き娘
    nekomimi-tsuki joshi 猫耳付き女子
    nekomimi-tsuki shoujo 猫耳付き少女
    Girl wearing cat-ears.
    Girl with cat-ears attached

In the words above we are saying more "cat-ears girl" than just "cat girl." This is because, I think, you'd expect a cat girl to be wearing cat-ears or to have cat-ears. If you say "cat girl" directly in Japanese, it can mean a girl that is cat-y but that doesn't have or wear cat-ears. That has fangs or cat-eyes or something. Or it can mean a furry an anthropomorphic cat girl.
  • neko musume 猫娘
    neko joshi 猫女子
    neko shoujo 猫少女
    Cat girl.

Finally, in fantasy games, anime and other stories, sometimes the main character finds a village or a kingdom of cat girls. Except, obviously, there are also cat-guys over there. I mean, what'd expect? Unless cat girls reproduce through mitosis it's impossible their race is composed entirely and solely of cat girls. Therefore it's not a kingdom of cat girls, it's most likely a kingdom of...
  • nekobito 猫人
    Cat-people

How to Say Cat Boy in Japanese?

Since there are words for "cat girl" in Japanese there must be words for "cat boy" too.

These words work exactly like the words above. The only difference is that they use shounen 少年 or danshi 男子 instead for the "boy" part.
  • nekomimi danshi 猫耳男子
    nekomimi shounen 猫耳少年
    Cat boy.
    Cat-ears boy.
  • nekomimi-tsuki danshi 猫耳付き男子
    nekomimi-tsuki shounen 猫耳付き少年
    Boy wearing cat-ears.
    Boy with cat-ears attached
  • neko danshi 猫男子
    neko shounen 猫少年
    Cat boy.

On a somewhat unrelated note, the word neko 猫 can also refer to the "bottom" in a homosexual relationship. Which means you could go back and replace "cat" with "bottom" and then facepalm yourself towards the floor because of how it perverts the original meaning of those examples.

Other Animal Ears (Not Cat Ears)

Of course you can say inu mimi 犬耳, "dog ears," nezumi mimi 鼠耳, "mouse ears," and so on for whatever animal you want, that is, as long as you know the name of the animal. (see List of Animal Names)

If you want a generic term, "beast ears," kemono mimi 獣耳, would be your best bet.

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