Hands and Legs – Ninnyo 儿 (1) 元完院兄光児


We have been looking at the kanji component shapes that originated with a hand or a foot.  In this and probably next few posts I would like to discuss the shapes that came from a hand and foot that signify “a person.”  This bushu [儿] is called /ninnyoo/にんにょう(literally, “a person” that extends from left to the right bottom) or /hitoashi/ ひとあし  (literally, “a person” at the bottom).

1. The kanji 元 “head; to begin; origin; formerly”

History元For the kanji 元, in oracle bone style (in brown), the short line at the top was the head; the line below that was a neck, emphasized; and a body that had a hand put forward in the middle. He was facing right. In bronze ware style (green), the person faces to the left. In ten style (in red), because the hand touched the ground it looked like another leg. But from the point of view of the historical progress, as we see in the earlier two shapes, we are going to treat them as a hand and a leg kneeling down. It meant “the neck or the head.” As a body part, a neck 首 /kubi/ and a head 頭 /atama’/ are used.

A head is where one’s thought originates or begins. So, it meant “head; origin; source; to begin.” It also meant “formerly.” There are two different on-readings: /gan/ is a go-on 呉音 and /gen/ is a kan-on 漢音. The go-on /gan/ is in words such 元日 (“the first day of a year” /ganjitsu), 元来 (“originally” /ga’nrai/); and the kan-on /gen/ is in 元気 (“healthy; energetic” /ge’nki/), 元首 (“head of a country” /ge’nshu/).  The kun-reading /ne/ is in 根元(”root” /nemoto’/) and 元社長 (“former company president” /mo’to shachoo/). A frequently used wordもともと (“originally” /motomoto/) comes from 元々, but it is usually written in hiragana because it is an adverb.

2. The kanji 完  “complete” and 院 “institution”

Hisstory完&院By placing the kanji 元 under a bushu ukanmuri “house”, we get the kanji 完. 元was used phonetically for /kan/. A bushu ukanmuri in ten style completely surrounded a person, and it gave the meaning of “complete.”  The on-reading /kan/ is in 完全 (”perfect; complete” /kanzen/), 完了(“completely finished” /kanryoo/.)  There is no on-reading in Joyo kanji.

Further, by adding a bushu kozato-hen “a high stack of soil” on the left side to 完, we get the kanji 院. The right side 完 was used phonetically, which later on changed to /in/. It meant a large house that was surrounded by a tall fence.  It means an institution such as 病院 (“hospital” /byooin/), 衆議院 (the Lower House in the Japanese Diet, /shuugi’in/) and 大学院 (“graduate school” /daigaku’in/).

3. The kanji 兄 “older brother”

History兄For the kanji 兄, we have an example that, within the same oracle bone style, one faced right and the other faced left.  In later examples of bronze ware style on, if a person faced right it usually meant “backward.”  But in oracle bone style, the direction that a person faced did not seem to make a difference. In the second oracle bone style here, a person was kneeling down. In bronze ware style, a person was standing with some ritual ornaments in his hand. Both suggested that a person with a large head sat or stood to say a prayer. In ten style, a person was kneeling down again. The person who said a prayer at the ancestral altar was an older brother or senior male member. From that it means “elder brother” or someone elder who is in the position to protect a young child.

This kanji had two on-readings: the go-on /kyoo/ is in 兄弟; and the kan-on /kei/ is in 父兄 (“parent of a student” /hu’kee/). The kun-reading is in 兄 (“older brother” /a’ni/), 兄貴 (“older brother” used by a male speaker /a’niki/)  It is also customarily used in お兄さん (“older brother” /oni’isan/).

4. The kanji 光 “light; to shine” (revised)


In the oracle bone style of 光, the top was the flames of a fire and the bottom was a person kneeling. In bronze ware style, the top was less representational but still showed the flames. In ten style, the top was taking the shape that would become the kanji 火 “fire” and the bottom “a person” was simplified. Burning flames emit intense light. A person who kept a fire was important. The kanji 光 meant “light”. The on-reading is in 日光 (“sunlight” /nik’koo/), 月光 (“moonlight” /gekkoo/) and 光沢のある (“glossy; sheeny” /kootaku-no-a‘ru/). The kun-reading is in 光 (“light” /hikari’/), 稲光 (“flash of lightning” /inabikari/) and 親の七光り (“capitalizing having a famous parent” /oya-no nanahi’kari/).

Notes: The discussion of the kanji 光 was revised after I realized that I had missed some wonderfully “illuminating” (no pun intended) samples in oracle bone style and bronze ware style. Thank you very much. (8/28/2014))

5. The kanji 児 “young child”

History児Among the writings shown on the left, all but the shinjitai kanji showed that the top had a gap. There are two different explanations for this gap. One is that the top was a baby’s head with its fontanel not closed yet, and from that it meant a young child. Another explanation is that the top showed a particular hair style of a girl in which hair was bound into two tufts, and it meant “young child.” I have not been able to find the explanation of the small round shape on the back of the child in bronze ware style.  In kyujitai (in blue), the top was also the same as the part of the kyujitai 舊 for the kanji 旧 “old.” Both the kyujitai kanji 舊 and 兒 were replaced with 旧 in shinjitai. This kanji also has two on-readings. The kan-on /ji/ is in 児童 (“elementary school pupil” /ji’doo/), 乳児 (“infant” /nyu’uji/); and the go-on /ni/ is in 小児科医 (“pediatrician” /shoonika’i/)

We will continue to see the kanji that have a bushu ninnyoo, probably 先洗充統育. A bushu ninnyoo (儿) will appear in Lesson 7 in the Visual Kanji video tutorials.  [8/20/2014]

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