Kakkoii: the Coolest Word in Japanese
Make sure this word is in your vocabulary
In this post we will explore some of the expression in the Japanese language to remark on someone or something’s ‘coolness’, as in attractive/fashionable.
The word you are looking for is かっこいい kakkoii, which is normally used to describe men, boys and also objects.
Let’s start with considerations on its orthography and pronunciation.
Pronounciation and Orthography
Kakko is pronounced exactly as it is written. Make sure the double
k is stressed.
In other words, make sure
kk sounds like
ck c in “Jack coughed”.
The final ii is pronounced like
ee in the word ‘eel’.
The proper (?) way of writing かっこいい kakkoii is 格好いい kakkō ii, with the two kanji:
- 格 KAKU; meanings: ‘status’, ‘rank’, ‘quality’.
- 好 KŌ; meanings: ‘to like’, ‘pleasing’.
格 KAKU + 好 KŌ = 格好 kakkō.
We just learned that kakkoii comes from kakkō ii. Both expressions are valid, and mean exactly the same thing.
The phonetic difference (difference in sound) between kakkoii and kakkō ii is the additional う u in the second variant.
This う u, in this context, serves the purpose of lenghtening the
o sound. こう kō is pronounced like ‘caught’ without the final
Try pronouncing a long
o sound followed immediately by a long
i sound. Does it sound a little artificial, maybe forced?
Saying “kakkooo iii” may be felt as too unnatural for everyday speech.
So the shorter かっこいい kakkoii, usually written in 平仮名 hiragana, has become the normal form. Even when you see this expression written in kanji as 格好いい kakkō ii, you should read it kakkoii.
Meaning of Kakkō and Ii
The word 格好 kakkō means ‘form’, ‘posture’, ‘appearance’, ie what something looks like.
いい ii simply means ‘good’.
The expression kakkoii / kakkō ii literally means ‘of good appearance’, or ‘good looking’.
If you grasp the feel of this expression you will be able to use it liberally in so many situations. With the following example sentences I tried to cover different scenarios where kakkoii applies to people, things and events.
Watashi no atarashii kareshi, kakkoii desho?
“My new boyfriend is cool, don’t you think so?” (colloquial)
Oo! Atarashii borudaringu no kutsu kattanda. Kakkoii jan!
“Hey! I see you’ve bought a new pair of bouldering shoes. They’re awesome!” (colloquial)
Minna no kakkoii tokoro, chanto bideo ni totteoku kara ne.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I get your best moments on camera.” (colloquial)
顔はかっこいいけど…なんか無理。 Kao wa kakkoii kedo… nanka muri. “He is handsome but… I don’t feel attracted to him.” (colloquial)
The Opposite of Kakkoii
Let’s briefly talk about the opposite of kakkoii, although this may eventually need a post on its own.
The opposite of いい ii is 悪い warui, so:
That’s right: 悪い warui means ‘bad’, ‘not good’. Remember Wario, Super Mario’s evil arch-rival?
Apart from its core meaning of ‘unattractive’ and ‘unstylish’, kakkowarui is often used to describe someone being clumsy or pathetic.
Ore tte kakkowarui otoko dana!
“I am such a lame man!”
Can a Girl Be Kakkoii?
You could say that a girl is かっこいい kakkoii, but you’d have to be sure that she doesn’t mind, or that the situation/context calls for it.
Consider this scenario:
If you are describing a girl generically, ie her personality or the way she acts, and you say that she is かっこいい kakkoii, then she might take offence unless she is known for being masculine and she likes to be seen that way.
The general rule in Japan is that:
- men are ‘cool’, かっこいい kakkoii, and
- women are… ‘cute’, 可愛い kawaii.
To be on the safe side, if you want to compliment a girl say that she is kawaii, rather than kakkoii.
Can We Say ‘Cool’ in Engrish?
It is definitely possible to say ‘cool’ in イングリッシュ Ingurisshu (English).
Sometimes we say クール kūru, from the English ‘cool’. It’s a pretty common word.
Chotto kūru na dezain ga ii kana?
“A design that’s somewhat cool would probably be preferable”. (neutral)
This concludes our quick overview of kakkoii. I hope it was useful!