One Foot at a Time (4) 傑燐憐隣-Two feet off the ground

Standard

1. 傑 “to stand out”

History傑In the last post, we have seen that one of the two interpretations of the origin of the kanji 乗 is that it was a man standing on a tree with each of his two feet facing outwards. Taking that interpretation, we can see that the ten style of the kanji 傑 consisted of a person on the left and two feet placed on top of a tree. A person who stood on top of a tree would stand out. So the kanji 傑 meant “to stand out.” There is no kun-reading. The on-reading /ketsu/ is in 傑作 (“masterpiece” /kessaku/), 豪傑 (“strong man; bold man” /gooketsu/) and 傑出した (“outstanding” /kesshutsu-shita/).

2. 燐 “phosphoric; onibi; will-o’-the-wisp”

History燐The common component of the next three kanji (燐・憐・隣) consists of 米 and 舛. In the oracle bone style, 燐 had a person (大) with two feet who was surrounded by four small fires or flickering lights. The kun-reading for the kanji 燐 are /oni’bi or onibi/ and /kitsunebi/. Onibi or kitsunebi is a small mysterious fireball or a flickering light that people saw (or thought to have seen) in the darkness of night. A scientific explanation of that is that a decayed body in the ground may emit a gas that causes a small fireball or flickering light at night. In English it is sometimes called will-o’-the-wisp. Summer is the season in Japan in which people enjoy an evening by watching a horror film or having a scary experience in a haunted house. The word onibi or kitsunebi comes with the season or in folktale.

This component appears in a number of kanji, so 火 was added to differentiate this from other kanji. The on-reading /rin/ is in 燐酸 “phosphoric acid.” Even though the kin-reading is onibi or kitsunebi, I would write those words as 鬼火 (“lit. demon’s fire”) or 狐火 (“fox fire”), that are more scary to me. A kun-reading touches our hearts more closely than an on-reading because it is an original Japanese word.

3. 憐 “pity”

History憐For the kanji 憐 in bronze ware style it had a heart at the bottom.  In ten-style, the heart moved to the left side and became a bushu risshinben (a vertical heart). The right side was used phonetically. It meant “to pity; feel sorrow.”The kun-reading is 憐れむ (“to pity” /aware’mu/), and the on-reading /ren/ is in 憐憫 (“pity” /renbin/.)

4. 隣 “neighbor”

History隣rrOf the four kanji we are looking at in this post, the kanji 隣 is the most useful kanji for us. In a bronze ware style, the left one,(a), was the same as the bronze ware style of the kanji 燐, as we saw in 2. Another bronze ware style, (b), had a high mound of soil or steps. In ten style, (c), however, two changes happened: one is that the top of the left side became two fires; another is that the left side moved to the right and became a bushu ozato. In shinjitai, (e), the bushu ozato moved back to the left, and became a kozato-hen.

In many of our previous posts we have seen that sometimes a component shifted position and appeared somewhere else in another style or even in the same style. So we would think that appearing in a different position does not change its meaning. But not in the case of a bushu kozato-hen こざとへん(on the left) and a bushu ozato  おおざと(on the right.) A high mound of soil that formed a ladder or a boundary became a bushu kozat-hen whereas the shape that had a box and a person meant an area where people lived, that was a village, became a bush ozato. In this case, the ten style reflected the meaning of “neighbor.” Since the time of ten-style, a bushu ozato on the right 鄰 was treated as the correct form. In shinjitai, we use 隣 with a bushu kozatohen.

In this post we talked about the ancient shape that had two feet of a person pointing to right and left. That became 舛 in 舞傑燐憐隣, but not in the kanji 乗. There is another kanji that I did not discuss here, that is 磔 (“crucifixion” /haritsuke/), with the meaning of two feet on a tree and a rock (石) thrown at it. The precursors of kanji can be so descriptive that sometimes I wish I had not known the origins.

In leaving this topic, from the examples we have seen we can make a working hypothesis that 舛 meant two feet off the ground, whether they are dancing feet, feet on a tree top, or mysterious flickering light. If we come across other kanji we will revisit this hypotheses. [July 28, 2014]

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