air, breath; essence, spirit; hidden reality, unseen agent
kon covers a very wide range of ideas that are losely related to each other through the concept of being known, but not seen. You'll often hear people use the phrase "unseen agent" to describe kon. I've divided this semantic space into three parts: spirits, meaning, and gas. toki pona connects these concepts by giving them all the same word.
If you'll indulge my spiritual worldview for a bit, a spirit could be some sort of supernatural being that we don't normally see. There are countless traditions around the globe that interpret divinity through unseen agents. For example, in christianity, the concept of the holy ghost could very easily be a type of kon. Dybbukim in Jewish folklore can easily be kon because they're not things people commonly see. If a spirit shows itself and becomes seen, using kon still works great to communicate that it frequently is an unseen agent. The idea of a spirit can be extended to the part of humans or beings, depending on how a speaker considers the idea of a soul. Some people think that everything has a soul, while others think that only humans have souls. kon works very well for all of these souls, framing them as the unseen part of things. In fact, a minority of speakers goes as far to call aspects of identity like gender types of kon. The broad idea behind this category is that kon can be used for, specifically, an unseen entity.
"Meaning" is a broad category. The most common usage of kon for meaning is semantic meaning, i.e. the meaning of words in language. Every semantic space entry in this dictionary could be described as an instance of "kon." If a speaker didn't know what another speaker meant even though they heard all the words, they could say that they didn't understand the "kon." Less often you'll see kon used for more abstract ideas of meaning, such as the meaning of a piece of art. This category is about unseen ideas or parts of thought.
Finally, gas. air is a very prototypical example of kon, but air is composed of a very specific set of gaseous matter. Even if a gas is visible, like steam or smoke, it's still squarely part of kon's semantic space. The entirety of Jupiter can be kon. Clouds can be kon. Hell, the sun can even be kon if you're looking at what composes it and framing it from that perspective instead of framing it as producing light.
soul⁵, air⁵, spirit⁵, gas⁵, essence⁴, atmosphere⁴, oxygen³, breathe³, breath³, meaning³, intangible³, breathing³, invisible entity³, definition², abstract², breeze², smell²
NOUN air, breath; essence, spirit, hidden reality, unseen agent
core · 99% usage
found in pu
Mandarin · 空氣 kōngqì ‘air, atmosphere, ambience, opinion’
by jan Sonja
ideogram; wavy lines to indicate the fluidity of gas. compare telo