Big-eyed Space Aliens Looking at Something Closely
It is almost true, isn’t it? As you have undoubtedly guessed, these are the ancient writings for 見. The left one in brown was in oracle bone style and the right one in green was in bronze ware style.
(1) 見 “to see”
Another sample of oracle bone style writing, in brown, is facing left. In ten style, in red, the eye became a vertical shape and the body below the eye became the shape that we see in many kanji such as 元, 院, 光, 先, 売 and 説. This common shape at the bottom of these kanji is a bushu ninnyoo or hitoashi, and it is often interpreted as a person in motion because it looks like two legs in kanji. But judging from the ancient writings, the shapes were originally a hand and a leg. The kanji 見 means to “see.” The on-reading /ke’n/ is in words such as 発見 (“discovery” /hakken/) and 意見 (“opinion” /i’ken/) and the kun-reading is in 見方 (“how one looks at” /mika’ta; mikata’/).
(2) 現 “to appear” (no ancient writing available)
The left side came from jewels strung together, as in the kanji 玉. Grinding a precious stone reveals a shine that was not visible before. What we see is what is present. The kanji 現 means “to appear” or “present.” The kun-reading is 現れる (“to become visible; appear” /araware’ru/). Its on-reading is used in words such as 現金 (“cash” /genki’n/), 現在 (“presently; now” /ge’nzai/) and 実現する (“to become realized” /jitsugen-suru/).
(3) 親 “parent; intimate”
In bronze ware style, in green, the left side was a tattooing needle with an ink reservoir. In ten style, in red, a tree was added. It was used phonetically for /shin/ and also to mean the closeness of a knife (or needle). Together with 見, they meant someone who looked at you closely, and thus “parent” and “intimate; close.” A kun-reading 親しい (/shitashi’i/) means close and another kun-reading is 親 (“parent” /oya’/). The on-reading is in 両親 (“parents” /ryo’oshin) and 親切な (“kind” /shi’nsetsu-na/).
(4) 視 “to see”
In oracle bone style, in brown, an altar table and an eye meant looking at an altar table. In ten style, in red, the two elements were placed side by side. The left side 示 by itself is the kanji 示 (“to indicate; show”) from “a place where a god demonstrates his will.” In the current kanji 視, 示 was replaced by the shape ネ, which is a bushu shimesuhen “religious matter.” In the kanji 視, however, the religious meaning was lost and the kanji just means “to see.” The kun-reading is /mi’ru/ “to see” but is rarely used. The on-reading is found in 視力 “eyesight” /shiryoku/) and 無視する (“to ignore” /mu’shi-suru/).
(5) 規 “standard”
The left side was a ruler or a compass to draw a line or circle, and was used to mean “standard.” The kanji 規 does not have a kun-reading. The on-reading is in 規定 (“regulation” /kitee/) and 規則 (“rule” /ki’soku/).
(6) 覚 “to be aware; memorize” and 学 “to learn”
In discussing the kanji 覚, it will be helpful to look at the kanji 学 first because it has a longer history. In oracle bone style, (1), with two hands and an “x” shape, it meant a place where people mingled and helped each other. In bronze ware style, (2), a child was added. A place where children mingled while protected by the caring hands of adults is a place where the children learn — the writing meant “to learn.” The kyujitai 學, (4), was replaced by a much abbreviated form 学, (5).
When the shape for child is replaced with the shape 見 for the act of seeing closely, one looks closely and becomes aware of a matter. The combined shape meant “to be aware.” The kyujitai 覺 was replaced by an abbreviated form 覚. One kun-reading is in 目が覚める (“to become awake” /me’ ga sameru/) and 目覚まし時計 (“alarm clock” /mezamashido’kee/). Another kun-reading is 覚える (“to memorize” /oboe’ru/). The on-reading is in 自覚する (“to be conscious of” /jikaku-suru/).
Well, in the last five posts (including this one) we have seen quite a few shapes that originated from a human eye. We shall revisit other eye shapes later, but for now we leave this topic. Thank you very much for reading these articles. I hope that you have had some surprises that you enjoyed and some affirmations of what you already knew. In the next post, I would like to look into four kanji that essentially came from one origin but now have different meanings: 史, 吏, 使 and 事. [April 12, 2041]