The Table of the Shapes in Kanji That Came from “Hand”- “hand” (9)


This is the table of the shapes that originally came from a hand and that we have looked at on this blog.

Microsoft Word - 手から来る部首形の表.docx

I remember that a former student of mine would lament my comments on the kanji and say, ‘Oh, everything in kanji is about a hand!”  Now I can see why she was struck by that impression.  [June 22, 2014]

A Hand with a Finger of Another Hand-寸付府守対討 -“hand” (8)


In this final post regarding “hand,” we are going to look at 寸, 付, 府, 守, 対 and 討.

1. The kanji 寸 “a little”

History寸The origin of the kanji 寸 has puzzled me for a long time, particularly the origin of the third stroke. Following a view that was based on the first century explanation in Setsumon-kaiji, I wrote that it was “a finger pointing at a wrist where one’s pulse was taken. The distance between a hand and that point is small, so this portion signified a little…” (Williams 2010: 183) This time I searched for earlier ancient writing, hoping that it might give us better evidence for that explanation. Strangely enough, there was no sample for 寸 earlier than the ten style on the left. Let us look at a few kanji that may contain earlier styles.

2. 付 “to attach; issue”

History付The three bronze ware styles for the kanji 付 (1), (2) and (3), have a person and a hand from behind. In (1) the hand was touching the person, and in (1) and (2) there is no short line that would become a third stroke in kanji. From handing something to another person, 付 meant “to hand out; attach.” Giving out documents was what a government office did, so it also meant “to issue.” The kun-reading /tsu/ is used in 付ける (“to attach” tr. v. /tsuke’ru/) and 付く (“to attach itself to; adhere; touch” intr. v. /tsu’ku/), 受け付ける (“to accept“(application, etc.) /uketsukeru/)  The on-reading /hu/ is in the words such as 交付する (”to issue; to grant” /koohu-suru/), 送付する (”to serve (someone) with~” /soohu-suru/) and 添付ファイル (“file attached” /tenpufa’iru/.)

3. 府 ”government ”

history府The kanji 府 looks like the kanji 付 inside a bushu called madare 广, which means a house that had one side open for people walking in and out. That would explain the meaning “government” that 府 has. However the two bronze ware style samples on the left add a little more story to it. They had a cowry at the bottom, representing important documents. Thus it originally meant a vault for important documents and money. In Ten-style there was no cowry. The kanji 府 means “government office.” In Japan it is a jurisdiction smaller than 都 (“metropolitan government” /to’/) but larger than 県 (“prefecture” /ke’n/). Only 大阪府 (“Osaka prefecture” /oosaka’hu/) and 京都府 (“Kyoto prefecture” /kyooto’hu/) have this designation. There is no kun-reading. The on-reading /hu/ is in 政府 (“government” /se’ehu/), 幕府 (“military government” /ba’kuhu/.)

4. 守 “to protect”

History守The kanji 守 has 寸 under a bushu ukanmuri. A bushu ukanmuri was originally a house or complete cover that securely protects something inside. It meant “to work inside a house or to protect what is inside a house.” The two bronze styles differ in that one has the extra dot and one does not. The kun-reading is in 守る (“to protect” /mamo’ru/), 見守る (“to watch over” /mimamoru/) and the on-reading is in 守衛 (“watch guard” /shuee/), 保守的な (“conservative” /hoshuteki-na/.)

5. 対 (對) “opposing; pair”

History対The kyujitai for the kanji 対 is 對. As I laid the three styles side by side like this, I realize that the shinjitai is closer to the oracle bone style. I do not have time right now to look into this, and at the moment we are interested in the right side 寸.The story of the left side varies. Whether it was “a notched stand to hang musical instrument,” as I wrote in 2010, or a building foundation made between boards by pounding dirt and gravel (Shirakawa), the right side is clearly a hand. Neither of the bronze ware style samples shows an extra stroke, but both ten style samples do. The kanji 対 means “opposing; pair.” There is no kun-reading. /Tsui/ is go-on on-reading and is used in words by itself as in 対になっている (”They are in a pair.” /tsui ni na’tteiru/) and 一対 (“one pair” /ittsui/.) /Ta’i/ is a kan-on on-reading and is used in 反対する (“to oppose” /hantai-suru/), 対立 (“confrontation” /tairitsu/) and 対象 (”target; aim” /taishoo/.)

6. 討 “to inquire thoroughly; attack”

History討The left side is a bushu gonben 言 “language; to say.” (言 itself deserves a post so we will look into the origin of 言 at later time.) Phonetically 寸 was close to 誅 /chuu/ “to kill” and 肘 /chuu/ ”elbow,” a body part that controls use of the hand. The kanji 討 means to inquire thoroughly; attack.” The kun-reading is in 討つ (“to attack” /u’tsu/.) The on-reading is in 討論する (“to debate; contend”/to’oron-suru/), 検討する (”to investigate; examine thoroughly” /kentoo-suru/) and in the sense of attack, 討伐する (“to put down”/toobatsu-suru/.)

Returning to the question of where the little stroke in 寸 come from, we do not seem to be getting anywhere other than that in bronze ware style both shapes appear, possibly with the extra stroke in a later one. So, I just take the explanation of two thousand year ago that it is a finger, or the width of a finger, and meant “a little.” I am going to leave the topic of hand for now with another post today that shows in a table the shapes from hand that we looked. Thank you very much for reading those posts about hands. [June 22, 2014]

P. S. For a madare, I used a symbol (广) that I had used in my book. (I had thought this would come out in mojibake on this site before. If browsers can take this, it will make it easier to see and write.) I hope your browser shows it correctly.

Two hands from below (2): 算戒械弁and 葬鼻升昇 -“hand” (7)


We have seen previously that two hands from below created a two-stroke ハ shape that was present in 共供興兵具 (and 異.)  In this post we are going to see another shape that came from two hands from below: it is a three-stroke shape at the bottom of 算戒械弁. The shape is called /niju’uashi/ “two-ten bottom” in a kanji dictionary. Japanese people rarely use bushu names, except a handful of common names such as ninben, shinnyuu (nowadays shinnyoo), kihen, etc. We just say “the bottom of the kanji san,” hoping that the hearer knows which kanji /sa’n/ being referred to. For convenience, I am going to use the name nijuuashi.

1. 算 “to calculate; count”

History算In ten style, the top was a takekanmuri “bamboo.” The middle and the bottom were the same as that of the ten style shape of the kanji 具 “contents; filling.” In the development of the kanji 具 what looks like 目 in fact came from a pot for cooking a sacrificial animal and other food. The bottom was two hands holding it up. [Link to 具]  Bamboo sticks were used for counting. From “counting the contents” the kanji 算 meant “to count.” Two hands from below became a ハ shape in 具 whereas they became a nijuuashi in 算. The kanji 算 does not have a kun-reading. The on-reading /san/ is in 計算 (“calculation” /keesan/), 算数 (“reckoning; arithmetics” /sansu’u/), 予算 (“budget” /yosan/) and 打算的 (”calculating; prudent” /dasanteki/.)

2. 戒 “to admonish”

History戒In the kanji 戒 ”to admonish” the oracle bone style had a halberd in the middle and a hand on both sides. In bronze ware style, a halberd was raised by two hands and pushed to the right, and in ten style the halberd was placed on top of the two hands. (A halberd is a weapon that has two functions, for thrusting and cutting. [The Oxford dictionary: a combined spear and battle-ax].)History戈(金文)  The bronze ware style of the kanji 戈 /ho’ko/ “halberd” is shown on the right side.

Shirakawa (2004) notes that: (1) Two hands raising an axe made the kanji 兵 “weapon; soldier” and; (2) two hands raising a halberd made the kanji 戒 “to admonish.” It is interesting to see a parallel here, that two hands from below ended up with two different shapes ハ in 具 and nijuuashi in 算, and the same thing happened in 兵 and 戒 [Link to 具 and 兵.] The kun-reading is 戒める (“to admonish” /imashime’ru/) and 戒め (“admonition; caution” /imashime/.) The on-reading /kai/ is in 戒律 (“commandments; religious precepts,” /kairitsu/), 十戒 (“the Ten Commandments” /jikkai/) and 懲戒処分 (“disciplinary measure“ /chookai-sho’bun/.)

3. 械 “machine; gadget”

History械By adding a kihen “tree; wood” to 戒, we get the kanji 械 as in 機械 (“machine; machinery” /kika’i/) and 器械 (“instrument; apparatus” /kika’i/). From “wooden apparatus that admonishes” the original meaning was “wooden shackle.” In kanji, the meaning of “admonishing” dropped and it means “gadget; machine.” There is no kun-reading in joyo kanji.

4. 弁 “flower petal; to defend; speak; dialect”

History弁The shape of the kanji 弁 came from two hands trying to put on a hat, which came from the left side of the ten style writing. According to Shirakawa, a black hat was worn by a civilian officer and a white hat by a military officer. In shinjitai the kanji 弁 has assumed various meanings from different kanji in the kyujitai – 瓣, 辨 and 辯.

弁の旧字体In order to understand different meanings of 弁, it may be useful to look at these three kanji in an enlarged view on the right side. If we compare the first three shapes, we notice that only the middle component is different. The outer shape had two 辛, which were tattooing needles. They meant two people pledging something with understanding that they would get tattooed as a punishment if they broke the pledge. From that it meant “to pledge.” The shape (a) 瓣 had 瓜 “gourd” in the center. Inside the gourd seeds are packed neatly in rows. It came to mean “flower petal.” The shape (b) 辯 had 言 “word; language” in the center, and it meant two people argue side by side. The shape (c) 辨 had a bushu shape called /rittoo/ “knife,” which divided something equally. It meant separating the two sides in court and making balanced judgment. In shinjitai, all three kanji uses the kanji 弁.

The on-reading /be’n/ is in the expressions such as 花弁 (“flower petal” /kaben/), 弁が立つ (“to speak eloquently” /be’n-ga ta’tsu/,) 答弁 (“answer; account” /to’oben,) 弁護士 (“legal attorney”/bengo’shi/) and 関西弁 (“Kansai dialect” /kansaiben/.)  弁当 (“boxed lunch” /bento’o/) appears not to be related (The Kojien dictionary suggests that it may be phonetic or for the meaning of convenience /ben/.) The kun-yomi 弁える /wakimae’ru/ means “to discern; have good knowledge of” and and is used in the phrase 場所を弁えない (“not bear in mind of the occasion” /basho-o wakimae’nai/.)

Now, not all the bushu nijuuashi shapes came from two hands from below. Here are a few kanji that I have found that do not share its meaning in our brief exposition of “hand” in kanji.

5. The kanji 葬 ”to bury; entomb”; and (2) 鼻 ”nose”

History葬In 葬 “to bury; entomb,” the ten style had two pairs of grasses or plants, the top for the bush kusakanmuri and the bottom in the same shape, and the precursor of 死 in the middle. A body hidden in tall grasses is a burial. From the kanji shape I had thought that the deceased being buried with tender care made sense. After I copied the ten style, I still thought they were hands. But I seem to be wrong.

In the kanji 鼻” nose,” the top 自 was “self” from a nose. The middle and the bottom together were used phonetically from kanji that was not used in Japanese. In the kyujitai 鼻 the two vertical strokes did not go above the long horizontal line in suggesting a table.

6. The kanji 升 “ladle; unit of measuring mass” and 昇 “to rise”

History升I became curious about the kanji 升 and 昇, because they contained the shape nijuuashi right in the middle. I had never paid attention to these kanji before.  (They are not among the “first half” of the Joyo kanji, so I did not include them in The Key to Kanji.) The development of 升 is shown on the left. When we think about its meaning, the shapes on the left make sense to me. It was a ladle to measure grains and liquid. It even points to the fact that the ladle has something inside. The kanji 升  /sho’o/ was an old unit of measuring grains and liquid before Japan switched to the metric system. Even after that the words 米一升 (“one sho of rice” /kome-i’sshoo/) or 一升瓶 (“a bottle of one sho; 1.8 liter” /issho’obin/) were words that were used in daily life.

History昇The kanji 昇 means “the sun rising.” It had the sun 日 and the bottom 升 was used phonetically. The kun-reading is 昇る (“to rise” /noboru/) and the on-reading /sho’o/ is found in 上昇 (“rising” /jooshoo/) and 昇進する (“to get promoted to a higher position” /shooshin-suru.)

So in this post, we have seen that not all the kanji that contain the bushu shape called nijuuashii came from the same origin. In the next post I am planning to discuss one more shape 寸 that came from a hand (or two hands, depending on the interpretation.) [June 15, 2014]

Hand and Bushu Tehen: 手挙拳摩打持推 – “hand” (6)


We have been looking at various shapes that originated from a hand. In this post we look at the kanji that contain the shape 手 itself (手, 挙, 拳 and 摩) and the bushu tehen (打, 持 and 推.)

1. The kanji 手 “hand; person with hand skill; method”

History of the Kanji 手 "hand"This is an open hand with five fingers and a wrist area, which seems to me the most obvious shape for a hand. However, I found only bronze ware style, in green, and ten style, in red. I had to go back to the sources a few times to make sure that I did not miss any oracle bone style. It puzzles me.

It is not surprising how many meanings a hand has: 1) a hand as a physical feature, as in 手 (“hand” /te’/) and 手でする(“to do by hand” /te’de suru/) ; 2) a person who has skill using a hand, such as 運転手 (“driver” /unte’nshu/), 選手 (“participating athelete” /se’nshu/) and やり手 (“an enterprising man” /yarite/); 3) skills in the use of a hand, as in 上手 (“skillful” /joozu’/) and 下手 (“unskillful” /heta’/); 4) a way or method as in 手法 (“method” /shuhoo/) and 奥の手 (“the last resort” /o’kunote/); and 5) something on one’s hand to own, such as 手に入れる(“to obtain” /te’ ni-ireru/) and 手にする (“to obtain; hold in one’s hand” /te’ ni suru/.

2. The kanji 挙 “to raise a hand; carry out”

History of Kanji 挙 ”to raise; carry out"The kanji 挙 looks to have a single hand in kanji, but if you look at its ten style, it had as many as five hands! At the top were two hands from either side and an interlocking shape in the middle. At the bottom were two hands from either side and another hand inside. In the last post we saw the kanji 興 having four hands that gave the meaning “to raise,” but this topped that in terms of the number of hands. How did it get reduced to a single hand? The kyujitai 擧, in blue, serves as the middle step: The two hands at the bottom were replaced by two strokes (ハ) left and right. In shinjitai, the top was replaced by a truncated katakana tsu (ツ). The history of kanji is a history of simplification of shape to make writing easier, to write and to read. We have seen this process in the top of the kanji 覚 “to be conscious of” and 学 “to learn”: In kyuujitai 覺 and 學 got replaced with the katakana tsu shape at the top, as discussed in an earlier post [link.] With five hands in its ancestor, the kanji 挙 means “to do something together at once, and is used in words such as 一挙に (“at a stroke” /i’kkyo ni/,) 挙手 (“raising a hand” /kyo’shu/) and 結婚式を挙げる (“to carry out a wedding ceremony” /kekko’nshiki o ageru/.)

3. The kanji 拳 “fist”

History of Kanji 拳 "fist"Similar to 挙 is 拳. In ten style the top was used phonetically for /ke’n/, and was the same as the kanji 券 (“ticket” /ke’n/), which had 刀 “knife; sword” instead of 手. The kun-reading is /kobushi’/ “fist” and it makes the word 拳銃 (“pistol” /kenjuu/.) After simplification of 擧 to 挙, the kanji 挙 and 拳 look so much alike. In trying to find either kanji in isolation in a dictionary or on the computer, I often pick the wrong kanji first.

4. The kanji 摩 “to rub; knead and soften by hand”

History of Kanji 摩 "rub; knead"The top 麻 was hemp or flax whose fibers needed to be pounded by hand to soften. There is another kanji that uses 麻, which is 磨 (“to polish; hone” /migaku/.) It has a stone 石 underneath instead of a hand 手. In 摩, adding a hand below emphasizes kneading- or rubbing-like work that one does by hand. The kun-reading is not used often and the on-reading /ma/ is in 按摩 (“massage” /anma/) and 摩擦 (“friction” /masatsu/.)

So the three kanji we have just looked at have direct use of a hand. Next we look at three kanji that have a bushu tehen. In the past I have touched on a few kanji that contained a tehen: 振 “to shake” from 辰 “clam” [link]; 採 “to adopt” from 采 “picking from above” and 授 “to bestow” from the original meaning of 受 “to receive” [link]. Let us look at a few more.

5. The kanji 打 “to hit” (and 丁 “block”)

History of Kanji 打 and 丁

Only ten style is available for 打, so let us look at the kanji 丁 “block.” In oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, 丁 was a “nail”, or something oblong. With a tehen added, the kanji 打 got the meaning of hitting a nail by hand to pound it in. So it meant “to hit.” In a baseball game 打者 (“hitter; slugger” /da’sha/) uses his arms and the kun-reading is in 打つ (“to hit” /u’tsu/.) In Japanese there is a prefix うち- “emphatic” that makes up many words such as 打ち明ける “to confide,” 打ち合わせ “staff meeting; informal meeting,” うち興じる ”to make merry” and 打ち消す “to deny.” This prefix must be of Japanese origin. Shirakawa (2004) mentions that there was a use of the kanji 打 as an emphatic prefix in Chinese. I do not have knowledge of how these two facts were related, and I am curious.

6. The kanji 持 “to have” (and 寺 “temple”)

History of Kanji 持 and 寺Only ten style is available for 持, but we can get some insight from 寺 on the right. For 寺, the bronze ware style writing had a footprint or foot (the precursor of 止) and a hand. In ten style an extra line was added, making the shape 寸. Together they meant that one used feet and hands to work in a place, specifically in a government office. Later on Buddhist monks stayed in the government building and it came to mean a “temple.”  Now back to the kanji 持 –寺 was used phonetically for /ji/ and probably for its meaning of a hand. Adding a tehen emphasized that one had something in hand. The kun-reading  持つ  /mo’tsu/ means “to hold in hand; own,” and is in 持ち物 (“one’s property” /mochi’mono/.) The on-reading is in 持参する (“to bring something with one” /jisan-suru/.)

7. The kanji 推 “to push forward; guess”

History of Kanji 推The right side is 隹, a bushu hurutori “bird,” which I discussed earlier  [link], but here it was used phonetically for /sui/ to mean “to push forward.” By adding a tehen, it meant to push by hand. A bird was also used in fortune-telling or divination and had the meaning “to guess.” A hurutori was also used for guessing, as in 誰 (“who” /da’re/) even though in current writing hiragana is usually used. The kun-reading 推す /osu/ means “to thrust forward; to recommend,” and the on-reading /sui/ is in 推薦状 (“a letter of recommendation” /suisenjoo/), 推進する (“to propel” /suishin-suru/) and 推測 (”guess; conjecture” /suisoku/.)

In writing this post, I was not able to find any oracle bone style or bronze ware style that had a tehan. That leads me to conclude that the kanji that have a tehen were created after bronze ware style, most likely as 形声文字 semantic-phonetic composite writing. I was going to wrap up my “hand”stories in this post, but it looks like I need more posts to do so. [June 7, 2014]