Eyes Wide Open (2) 直, 値, 植, 置 and 徳 


In this post, I am going to discuss the five kanji 直値植置 and 徳. They all have the common component of 直 ”straight; direct.”

(1) 直 “straight; direct”

History of 直The kanji 直 also contains an eye. In oracle bone style, (1), a side-long shape of an eye had a straight vertical line above. A writing found on a stone inscription, (2), that is believed to predate ten-style had a dot on this vertical line to indicate that the line was important.  In ten style, (3), the dot for emphasis at the top turned into a straight stroke.  Being straight is a “direct” way.  So, the kanji 直 means “straight; direct.”

(2) 値  “value”

Kanji 値By adding a bushu ninben “person; an act that one does” to 直, we get the kanji 値. When one looks at something in a straight and direct way, he is assessing its value. The kanji 値 means “value; approximation, pricing.” It is used in words such as 値段 (“price” /nedan/), 価値 (“value” /ka’chi/) in on-reading as well as 値 (“value” /atai/ ) in kun-reading.

(3) 植 “to plant”

Kanji 植By adding a bushu kihen “tree; wood,” we get the kanji 植. When one plants a tree, he places the tree straight up. This is used to construct words such as 植木 (“garden plant” /ueki/) and 植物 (“plant” as contrasted to animal /shoku’butu/) in on-reading, and 植える (“to plant” /ueru/) in kun-reading. It is also used to infer colonization, as in 植民地 (“colony” /shokumi’nchi/.)

(4) 置 “to place; leave”

Kanji 置Does the top of the kanji 置 look like “an eye” to you? Well, its ten style on the left side tells us that it was a net. In order to catch birds, a net was placed straight above the area where birds gather. From that the writing meant “to place; leave; lay (something).” The kanji 置 makes up words such as 位置 (“position” /i’chi/), 放置する (“to neglect“ /ho’ochi-suru/) in on-reading as well as 置く (“to leave; place; lay” /oku/) in kun-reading.

(5) 徳 “virtue; personal grace”

History of 徳In oracle bone style, (1), we can see that the left side was the original shape of 直, having a straight line and an eye.  The right side was a right half of a crossroad, which meant “to go,” or, when applied in a person, “to conduct oneself” or “deed; act.” Together they meant “one’s conduct with his eye looking straight.” In bronze ware style, (2), a heart 心 was added and the left side of a crossroad was used. So, this writing had a straight line of sight, true heart and straightforward act all in one. Wow! That is one heavily laden meaning. Do we think of “virtue; personal grace,” which is the English translation, in this manner? In ten style, (3), the components were more stylized and the current kanji 徳, (4), lost an angle line below an eye.

In a quick look of the English meanings of these five kanji, it is not obvious that they once had something common. But the ancient writings do reveal what had been left behind along the way as they got standardized into kanji. To me the stories give me something to reflect on how people, of ancient and present times, tried or try to put an idea into visible form so that we could communicate it to others. In the next post, I will discuss a 臣 group (臣, 臨, 覧, 緊, 蔵, 臓.)    [3-25-2014]

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