General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Which word do you think is better known and understood: "ankh" or "koan"?

Asked by Jeruba (51894points) June 12th, 2020

Without looking them up, do you know what they both refer to?

If only one, which one?

Do you think they are about equally familiar in common vocabulary, or one more than the other? Or not common at all?

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40 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Well, an ankh is an egyptian symbol.
No idea what a koan is.

janbb's avatar

Ankh is an Egyptian totem or emblem, I think. I can sort of picture what I think it is, perhaps an ellipse with a bar across the top?

I’ve heard the word Koan but I’m not sure what it is – perhaps a Hindi religious object?

So In this survey of two fairly erudite people, I would say that ankh is more familiar but neither is very commonly known.

hmmmmmm's avatar

Never heard of an “ankh”, but a koan is fairly common around these parts. I’m sure most people know what that means.

anniereborn's avatar

I know ankh as well, I have never heard of koan.

Brian1946's avatar

I’ve read that the ankh is the Egyptian symbol of life. It looks like an inverted tear drop, on top of an upper-case T.

I think koans are the toys of the illogical, so I’m totally unfamiliar with them. ;-p

Darth_Algar's avatar

Primarily a Zen Buddhist device, a koan is a riddle with no answer. It’s meant to be contemplated, not “solved”.

“What is my face before my mother and father were born?”

Jeruba's avatar

So what is your opinion on the question I actually asked?

janbb's avatar

^^ I think I answered your question.

Kardamom's avatar

I know what an ankh is. I have never heard the word koan.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I don’t recall using either word. Maybe I saw “ankh” in an old National Geographic article.

LostInParadise's avatar

II have heard of the word koan but not ankh. I wonder how many people know the definition of mantra as it relates to meditation.

snowberry's avatar

I’ve heard of ankh but not koan as well.

ucme's avatar

Ankh is a kinda crucifix with a loop at the top.
I thought everyone would know & have heard of one, very common as far as I know.

hmmmmmm's avatar

I’m apparently the only person who has never heard of “ankh” and thought “koan” is commonly known.

longgone's avatar

^^ I am the second only person of that opinion.

janbb's avatar

^^ It may have something to do with age. In the 60s and 70s, hippies sometimes wore ankhs. If the phrase were Zen koan I might have recognized it better, but I didn’t know it for what it was alone.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I know ankh because I had an emergency lesson plan for those classroom where the regular teacher didn’t leave any.
I passed out paper with the whole Egyptian alphabet on it and the corresponding English letters, then I’d have the kids write their names using they hieroglyphics, then color them. I then used that time to try and glean some clues as to what they had been learning recently.

JLeslie's avatar

I think ankh is more familiar to most Americans between the two. I think ankh is more likely to be taught at some point during K-12 education while koan isn’t. That’s my guess for a possible reason why.

I had never heard of koan before this Q. I wouldn’t be surprised if my sister knows what koan means though, simply because she is more familiar with eastern religions and philosophies.

zenvelo's avatar

I have not read the responses yet, but I know both words, what they mean, and have used each in conversation. It might be because both are often used in crossword puzzles.

“As I gazed on the ankh, I wondered what is the sound of a jellyfish clapping?”

raum's avatar

I’m surprised that some people don’t know what an ankh is. Isn’t an obsession of all things Egyptian a grade school rite of passage? Like dinosaurs?

The word koan sounds familiar. First thing(s) my brain pulled up was money or poetry. But looks like I’m wrong on both counts.

Zaku's avatar

Depends on what population you mean.

I think ankh is more known by most Western people and certainly by nearly all Egyptians, and Koan is more known by people more familiar with Buddhist traditions.

raum's avatar

Koan is probably more known by Japanese or western people that are familiar with Buddhist traditions.

My parents are Buddhist. But pretty sure they don’t know what a koan is. Or, rather, they know it by another name.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I knew what both are. I’m surprised some here did not.

ragingloli's avatar

To be fair, you probably do not even know what Abseits is.

Demosthenes's avatar

I would assume that “ankh” is more well-known. It’s something you might learn in school when you study Ancient Egypt (this is where I think I first heard it). “Koan” may be more obscure and unknown to those unfamiliar with Buddhism.

ucme's avatar

I first learned of the ankh symbol from a Crash Bandicoot game.
Not all knowledge comes from a seat of learning.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@ucme I first learned ankh in “Logan’s run.” Then later it came back in Western Civ. I learned Koan in a 100 level philosophy course.

Jeruba's avatar

Would anybody like to take a guess as to why I asked this relatively odd question?

Thanks for all responses. They’re mostly not what I expected, so I learned something, or something more than I thought I might.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Ankh. I have known what an ankh is for a long time, I never heard the word koan before I read this question and then minutes after reading this question I came across it somewhere else. I guess it’s possible I’ve seen it and just didn’t recall, but the timing was still bizarre.

zenvelo's avatar

@Jeruba were you doing a word puzzle where the words intersected at the “k”? Or was the koan blending into the ankh? (K O A N K H). ?????

Kardamom's avatar

I’m guessing that almost everyone here has actually heard, or seen the word ankh, even though they might not have thought about it, because King Tut’s name is actually comprised of that word: Tutankhamun.

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba Was someone challenging them in Scrabble game? Similar to what @zenvelo asked.

SEKA's avatar

I’m more familiar with “ankh” as I’ve never heard of “koan”

kritiper's avatar

I have heard the word “ankh” many times over the years but have never heard of “koan.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

Y’all have never heard of “Koan the Barbarian”??

raum's avatar

A discussion about culture and religion of the oppressor being more-widely known than that of the pacifist?

Or a crossword puzzle? Four letter word for well-known, religious term?

basstrom188's avatar

Koan an electronic music duo from Bristol (England)

dabbler's avatar

Holy Moley, my answer, before reading all the answers above, was “of course everyone has heard of a koan, like ‘the sound of one hand clapping’, but who has heard of an ankh unless you went to the traveling King Tut exhibit.”

BUT, above answers lean heavily to the opposite, everybody knows what an ankh is, and only some know what a koan is… live and learn.

hmmmmmm's avatar

^ I was in the same boat. I thought everyone knew what koan means.

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