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]

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