Sugoi! Where is that word from anyway?

One of the first words any student of Japanese will learn after encountering an actual Japanese person is ‘sugoi.’ すごい. Yes, Sugoi. One of the most overused words in the entire Japanese language. Probably.

“Sugoi” as used by modern Japanese means: Awesome! Cool! Amazing! That’s great! Fabulous! Incredible! Wonderful!

When using Kanji sugoi is written as 凄い but it’s often written only in Hiragana. The Kanji carries the real meaning of the word. So, what other words use this 凄 character?

凄まじい すさまじい susamajii | terrific; fierce; terrible; tremendous; dreadful; awful; amazing; absurd; cutthroat; intense;

凄惨な せいさんな seisanna | ghastly; gruesome; appalling; lurid

So you can see that this word has the connotation of something so sugoi that it’s terrifying. I’m not sure when Japanese started using sugoi as often as they do now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the original use wasn’t in a positive context at all.

Anyone else know?

Modern fancy Japanese also occasionally write sugoi using some katakana… スゴい!

Check the online ALC dictionary for even more examples of this character 凄.