One Foot at a Time (2) 韋衛圍(囲)違偉


The shapes that came from two footprints appear in various kanji. In this post we are going to look at the kanji that had two sideways feet facing in opposite directions and a square in the middle: 韋衛圍(囲)違偉.

1. 韋

History韋The shape 韋 is the topic of this post. In oracle bone style, it had a sideways footprint facing in the left direction (top) and another facing in the right direction (bottom) across a square (middle). It meant a wall of a town or fort being patrolled. Walking opposite directions gave the meaning “to be different.” This kanji is not Joyo kanji and the only word that I can think of is 韋駄天 (”great runner” /idaten/), which is usually used, with admiration, for a very fast runner. The Kenkyusha’s New Japanese English Dictionary (1974) gives the meaning “a swift-running heavenly runner,” a colorful translation. I would imagine that having two feet may be something to do with this use.

2. 衛 “to guard”

History衞The kanji 衛 seems to have two different streams of history, and that may explain why the current kanji shinjitai (g) is different from its immediate predecessor kyujitai (f) at the bottom of the middle. Throughout history, the outer shapes were a crossroad, which by itself became the kanji 行 “to go; conduct.” Let us focus on the middle. In oracle bone style, (a) and (b), it was a footprint or two footprints in opposite directions, and a plough in the middle. A plough became the kanji 方, and had the meaning of four directions. Footprints going in all directions meant to patrol the area. In bronze ware style, in addition to (c), which was same as (a) and (b), there was (d), having a box in the middle. They meant soldiers patrolling around the wall of a town or fort to guard it. In ten style, yet another shape appeared at the bottom of the middle, which apparently phonetically meant “to circle around.” Kyujitai generally took the shape of its ten style, and in this kanji it was also the case. Then, in kanji, the shape took the shape 韋, two feet in opposing directions. This had the predecessor (d).

The kanji 衛 does not have a kun-reading. The on-reading /ee/ is in words such as 自衛隊 (“Self-defense Forces” /jieetai/), 防衛 (“defense” /booee/), and 護衛する (“to guard” /goee-suru/), which are security related, and 衛生 (“hygiene; sanitation” /eesee/), related to guarding a life. Among the words that mean “going around” are 人工衛星 (“satellite” /jinkoo-e’esee/), which literally means “a man-made star that orbits,” and 衛星放送 (“satellite broadcasting” /eesee-ho’osoo/).

3. 囲(圍)”to surround; enclosure”

History囲圍The kanji 囲 came from the kyujitai 圍. In bronze ware style and ten style, two feet patrolling around a circle was placed in an enclosure. It meant “to surround; enclose.” It is interesting to think about how the two kanji 衛 and 圍 were related. While the kanji 衛 meant “defense” or “protect”, the kanji 圍 meant more an attack: By placing 韋 inside a closed box, which is the bushu くにがまえ, it meant to envelop what was guarded inside. The kun-reading is 囲む (/kakomu/ “to surround; enclose”), 囲う (”to enclose; fence in” /kakoo/).  The on-reading is in 包囲する (“to envelop” /ho’oi-suru/), 周囲 (“the circumference” /shu’ui/), 範囲 (“scope; sphere” /ha’n-i/ はんい), and 雰囲気 (“atmosphere; ambience” /hun-i’ki/ ふんいき.) To write a complex 10 stroke shape 韋 inside a kunigamae (囗) is not easy. I would think that that was the reason why people used 井 for its sound /i/ (kin-reading) and the meaning of a square.

4. 違 “different; to differ”

History違rFor the kanji 違, in bronze ware style in addition to 韋, the two opposing feet around a box, it had a left side of a crossroad and a footprint at the bottom. In ten style the crossroad and a footprint were placed vertically. In kanji, those two items became a bushu, shinnyoo “to go forward.” Together two feet going in different directions meant “to be different.” The kun-reading /chiga(u)/ is in words such as 間違える (“to make a mistake” /machiga’eru; machigae’ru/), すれ違う (“to pass by each other” /surechigau/), 勘違いする (“to guess wrong; make a wrong conjecture” /kanchi’gai-suru/.) The on-reading is in 交通違反 (“traffic violation” /kootsuu-i’han/), 相違ない (“certain; no doubt about it” /sooina’i/.)

5. 偉 “grand; eminent”

History偉For the kanji 偉 in ten style, a person was added to 韋. A person who is different and stands out among the ordinary people commands respect. The kanji 偉 means “great; eminent.” The kun-reading is in 偉そうに (“with a grand air” /eraso’o ni/). The word 偉い (“great; eminent” /era’i/) is also used as an expression, meaning “Good job!; Well done!” to praise an act that someone did, particularly someone junior to you. The on-reading /i/ is in 偉大な (“illustrious” /idaina/), 偉人伝 (“biography of a great figure” /iji’nden/).

In the next post, I am continuing with the shapes that came from two footsteps, 舛 in particular: 傑無舞隣燐. [July 13, 2014]

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