■ 当て字 are kanji that are used to write a word based only on the readings or sounds associated with the kanji, not the kanji's meanings.
□ There are two main types of 当て字: native Japanese words that have been given kanji unrelated to the meaning, and foreign words that have been assigned kanji in the same way.
Examples of the first type include the following:
阿呆（あほ） idiotExamples of the second include:
仕事（しごと）work （only the 仕（し） is an 当て字)
地下足袋（じかたび） (See this entry.)
吉利支丹, 切支丹（キリシタン） ChristianMany native Japanese words are still commonly written in 当て字. Before the postwar orthographic reforms and especially during the Meiji era, foreign words and proper nouns were also often written in 当て字. Now most borrowings are written in katakana, although some 当て字-derived words are still common, including the one-character abbreviations for country names such as 米（べい）"United States," 英（えい） "Britain," and 豪（ごう） "Australia."
This entry was created by Tom Gally.