The Meaning of Deku: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will provide all the necessary knowledge on the Japanese word deku, including its translation and definition, origin, conversation examples, and more!

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What does the Japanese word deku mean?

According to Linguaholic, the Japanese word deku or “木偶” in kanji means “puppet.” This is related to the word dekunobou, or “木偶の坊 (でくのぼう)” which means “wooden doll,” according to JLearn. These definitions refer to antique wooden puppets. The 木 character  means wooden or tree, and the 偶 character has many different meanings. It can mean “even number,” “accidentally,” “same kind,” or “man and wife.” One possibility for the origin of this word is the word deiguu, which means “clay doll.”

While the primary meanings of deku and dekunobou refer to physical puppets and wooden dolls, both of these can also be used as insults. They are both used to mean blockhead, idiot, or good-for-nothing. The traditional deku dolls do not have any arms or legs, so calling someone a deku is the equivalent of saying they are as useless as a limbless wooden doll.

While this definition may seem harsh, it is a very light insult, like calling someone a dummy or blockhead in English. Deku is somewhat of an abbreviation for dekunobou.

Where is the word deku seen in popular culture?

The first place the word deku was seen in popular culture was in the Legend of Zelda video game series. In the game Majora’s Mask, the main character is transformed into a deku doll brought to life. While in the game the dols have arms and feet, they are fairly similar to the classic Japanese puppets. The deku characters appear in seven Legend of Zelda games.

Deku is most famously seen in the manga and anime Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia in English.) In My Hero Academia, the main character is named Izuku Midoriya according to Fandom. His last name means “green valley” in English, with 緑 (midori) translating to green and 谷 (tani / ya) translating to valley. He also goes by the name Deku. Fandom states that he was born “quirkless” but later receives a quirk from All Might, which makes him a holder of One For All. He succeeds the greatest hero of all time. His greatest ability is his knowledge of hero tactics and skills. He is very well studied and can apply his knowledge during crises.

While some may think this is a rather mean nickname, it actually has two meanings. One is rather insulting, meaning “useless” or “good-for-nothing.” However, deku sounds similar to another Japanese word dekiru, which means “can do.” Therefore, depending on who is talking to Izuku, the nickname can mean either. This is also a pun on his name in Japanese lettering.

According to Japanese Verb Conjugator, the Japanese verb dekiru means “to be able to” and is represented as 出来る in Japanese writing. The stem of the verb as well as the infinitive are the word deki. Dekiru is the present plain positive form, meaning “can do” casually. If one wished to say “can do” formally, they would use “dekimasu.” The informal negative present form of the verb is “dekinai,” and the formal negative present form is “dekimasen.” 

Mipon states that Midoriya chose Deku as his superhero name because of its dual meaning – it used to make him upset, but now it makes him happy. He likes having a name that means he can do it.

According to Fandom, the character of Deku is “shipped” with many other characters in the series. These include Katsuki Bakugou, which makes the ship name BakuDeku, Kirishima Eijirou, which makes the ship name KiriDeku, and Shoto Todoroki, which names the ship name TodoDeku. Shipping is when fans fantasize about two characters being in a relationship, hence the word “shipping.” These fans may write FanFiction about the characters, draw fan art, or discuss the characters’ relationships on online forums.

How can the word deku be used in a sentence?

Deku is not a common English word, so one should exercise caution when using it around people who are not familiar with My Hero Academia or who are unfamiliar with Japanese phrases. However, if the English speakers are familiar with one of these things, the word is acceptable to use around casual friends.

In this example, Candace and Jess like watching My Hero Academia together and they know what the word deku means. They are working on a diorama project for school together.

Candace: I think our timeline should go left to right, don’t you? 

Jess: Oh my gosh, I’m such a deku. I was looking at it upside down.

Candace: You’re not a deku, I’m the deku! I put the title on upside down! 

Jess: Guess we’re even!

Here, Candace and Jess both use the word deku to refer to themselves as dummies for making silly mistakes on their diorama projects. In the next example, Tony and Kesila are roommates who both have a general knowledge of Japanese. Kesila walks into their apartment.

Kesila: Oh, you’re home?

Tony: Yeah? Why wouldn’t I be?

Kesila: You didn’t park in the garage.

Tony: …Yes I did?

Kesila: Your car isn’t there.

Tony: Oh my god. I parked in the wrong spot again.

Kesila: You deku!

Overall, the word deku is a Japanese word that refers to a wooden doll or puppet. Traditionally, these dolls had no arms or legs. The word deku is also used as a teasing insult in Japanese to refer to a blockhead or dummy. The phrase implies that the person is as useless as a legless, armless wooden doll.