The kanji 受 and 授 have 又 ”hand” in common, the shape that we discussed in the previous post. In addition to 又, they have another hand in common, shown on the left. There are several different shapes that originated from a hand; and for our reference I label this shape as “a hand from above.” It has three fingers and the top of the hand, possibly like the image on the right.
1. 受 “to receive”
For the kanji 受, In the oracle bone style writing, in brown, what looks like two cross shapes were two hands and between the hands was a big plate. In the bronze ware style writing, in green, we can see that they used two different shapes for two hands: one from above and one from below. The middle was a boat shape. Both a big plate and a boat transport food or stuff from one place to another. One hand handing something to another meant “to receive” or “to give.” In oracle bone style and bronze ware style times, the writing did not differentiate who gave or who received but rather pointed at the transaction itself. By Ten style, in red, however, the meaning of giving had been dropped and it only meant “to receive.” The kun-reading is in 受ける (”to receive” /uke’ru/) and 受付 (“reception” /uketsuke/) and 引き受ける (“to undertake” /hikiuke’ru/.) The on-reading is in 受験する (“to take/sit for an exam” /juken-suru/)
2. 授ける “to bestow; grant; confer”
Sometime before ten style a new kanji was created to describe an act by a giver, by adding a bushu tehen, which generally meant an act that one does using a hand. The new writing 授 described giving from someone in a higher position to someone in a lower position, so it meant “to bestow; grant; confer.” The kanji 授 contained three hands in which the bushu tehen signaled that the writing was about an act itself. The kun-reading is in 授ける (“to bestow; grant; confer” /sazuke’ru/) and the on-reading is in 授業 (“class instruction” /ju’gyoo/) and 教授 (“professor” /kyooju/).
An interesting thing about this pair of kanji 受 and 授 is that the transitivity of a verb affects its meaning. For instance, with a transitive verb /uke’ru/, 試験を受ける (/shike’n-o uke’ru/) means “to take a test; sit for an exam“ whereas with an intransitive verb /uka’ru/, 試験に受かる (/shike’n ni uka’ru/) means “to be accepted; to pass.” In 授, with a transitive verb /sazuke’ru/, 賞を授ける (/sho’o o sazuke’ru/) means “to bestow an award” whereas with an intransitive verb /sazuka’ru/ 才能を授かる (/sainoo o sazuka’ru/) means “to be bestowed with talent; to be gifted.”
3．采 “to pick”
Now, we move to another shape that contained a hand from above and 木 “tree,” that is, 采. The oracle bone style tells the story best: A hand from above was picking flowers, fruits or nuts on a tree. From that 采 meant “to pick.” This kanji does not have a kun-reading and its on-reading /sa’i/ is used in the phrase 采配をふるう (“to take command; manage in person” /saihai o furuu/.)
4. 菜 “green vegetable”
Adding the bushu kusakanmuri “grass; vegetation” to 采 created the kanji 菜 “green leaves; vegetable.” One picked the leaves of vegetables by hand from above. The kun-reading /na/ is in the word 菜っ葉 (“leaf vegetable” /nap’pa/). The on-reading is in 野菜 (“vegetable” /yasai/) and 白菜 (“hakusai” /hakusa’i/). (I have seen many different English names in grocery stores for 白菜 in the U. S. and U. K., where I do or did my grocery shopping; Chinese long cabbage, nappa cabbage, or sometimes even in hakusai, the Japanese name!)
5. 採 “to pick”
The kanji 採 consists of the bushu tehen “an act that one does using a hand” and the kanji 采. There seems to be no ancient writing for this. The one on the left, in grey, is from a 6th century inscription on a tombstone. The kanji 採 means “to take; adapt.” The kun-reading is in 採る (“to pick” /to’ru/) and the on-reading /sai/ is used in 採用する (”to hire; adopt” /saiyoo-suru/), 採光 (“lighting” /saikoo/) and 採算のとれる (“profitable” /saisan no tore’ru/).
6. 彩 “color scheme”
Flowers on a tree give us a multitude of beautiful colors. The three diagonal lines on the right side meant “beautiful shape; shape.” This bushu appears in the kanji such as 形 (“shape” /katachi/), 影 (“shadow” /ka’ge/) and 髪 (“hair” /kami’/). The kanji 彩 means “coloring; color scheme.” The kun-reading is in 彩り (“color scheme” /irodori/) and the on-reading is in 色彩 (“color scheme” /shikisai/) and 水彩画 (“water color painting” /suisaiga/).
You have probably noticed that the on-reading of all four kanji 采, 菜, 採 and 彩 is /sai/. The first one 采 was 会意文字 (“semantic composite writing” /kaiimo’ji/) and the other three were 形声文字 (“semantic-phonetic composite writing” /keeseemo’ji/). Similarly, the kanji 受 was a semantic composite writing and the kanji 授 was a semantic-phonetic composite writing.
In the next post I would like to look at the kanji that have a hand from above shape, including 浮 and 乳, and kanji that used to have a hand from above but it was replaced by a simpler shape in shinjitai style, including 争, 静 and 為. [May 11, 2014]