Kanji 異 Revisited and 典其選殿臀 


The kanji 異 in oracle bone style, bronze ware style and official seal styleBack in May in one of the posts about “a hand” [link: “Two Hands from Below (1) 共, 供, 異, 興,兵 and 具”] I had originally written that the bottom two strokes ハ in the component 共 in kanji such as 共供異興兵 and 具 had come from “two hands from below.” On the kanji 異, however, it was pointed out by an observant reader that judging from the ancient writings the bottom of 異 could have come from two legs rather than two hands of the person who was holding a mask over his face. [The history of the kanji 異 is shown on the right side.] In my response to his comment, I agreed with his view. Having said that, the horizontal line in ten style remained unsolved in my mind. Since then, I have had a chance to think about a few more kanji that contained 共. In this post, we are going to look at other kanji with 共 for the purpose of revisiting the kanji 異.

(1) The kanji 典 “law; code”

History of the kanji 典In the kanji 典 “law; code,” the top of the oracle bone style (brown), bronze ware style (green) and ten style (red) had an image of wooden or bamboo long writing tablets that were strung together to make a book. This method of making a book predated the invention of paper. Treated bamboo or wooden tablets were used to keep the records of important decrees or chronicles written down. The bottom shapes in oracle bone style had either two hands holding up a book, or one hand possibly turning the writing tablets as he read. In bronze ware style and ten style, the book was placed on a table with legs. The writing 典 meant “code; law.” Those samples allow us to come up with two different interpretations of the origins of the bottom ハ in 典: (1) If we go back to the earliest oracle bone style we can say that it came from two hands; and (2) if we go back to the bronze ware style we can say that it came from the legs of a table.

The kanji 典 has no kun-reading in Joyo kanji and its on-reading /ten/ is in 法典 (“law; code” /hooten/), 辞典 (“dictionary” /jiten/), 典雅な (“elegant” /te’ngana/), and etc.

(2) The kanji 其 “that; it” (a demonstrative word)

History of the kanji 其Another example of table legs is seen in the kanji 其. This kanji is often used in 其の他 (“others” /sono’ta/), even though it is not included in Joyo Kanji. It is also found in more frequently used kanji such as 期, 基, 旗 that are read as /ki/ for phonetic use. For our discussion I use the history of the kanji 其, because it has a fuller inventory of ancient writing in the references.

In the image above, in oracle bone, bronze ware and ten styles, the top was a basket or sieve to remove rice hulls. In one of the bronze ware styles (on the right) and ten style, a table with legs was added. The kanji 其 came to be used for a demonstrative word and by adding a bush takekanmuri, “bamboo,” the new kanji 箕 /mi’n0/ was created to be used for the original meaning of “winnow” [winnow: (to) blow a current of air through (grain) in order to remove the chaff – New Oxford American Dictionary]. So the bottom shape ハ in 其 was an example of table legs.

(3) The kanji 選 “to choose; select”

History of the kanji 選The kanji 選 in bronze ware style had two people side by side at the top. The bottom had a footstep (止) on the left and a crossroad (彳) on the right, which became the shape 辵 in ten style. In ten style, on the right side, the two people were placed on a raised platform. Select people were offering votive dances, thus it meant “to choose; select.” The left side 辵 became a bushu shinnyoo in shinjitai. In this kanji, 共, the lower part of the 巽, was a stage with legs too.

The kun-reading of the kanji 選 “to choose; select” is /era’bu/ and in 選りすぐる (“to choose from good ones” /erisugu’ru/ or /yorisugu’ru/). The on-reading is in 選挙 (“election” /se’nkyo/).

(4) The kanji 殿 “feudal lord; official form of address” and 臀 “buttock”

History of the kanji 殿 and 臀 Kanji in 殿 in ten style; the left side had a person sitting on a stool, signifying a buttock; and the right side was a bushu rumata (ル and 又) “to hit; attack,” from a spear-like object held in a hand (又). The buttock of someone sitting getting slapped from behind meant “buttock.”  Strange as it may sound, Shirakawa (2004) wrote that there was an ancient custom that a bridegroom was slapped on the buttock on his wedding day. So, 殿 originally meant “buttock.” But it came to be used to mean “feudal lord” and its large house, “palace.” The new kanji 臀 was created by adding a bushu nikuduki (月) “flesh” at the bottom to mean “buttock.”  What he was sitting on was a bench or chair. There seemed to be two chairs here.

The kun-reading /to’no/ is a form of address to one’s feudal lord. It is also used as an honorific suffix in official correspondence, as in 鈴木一郎殿 (Mr. Ichiro Suzuki.) The on-reading /den/ is in 本殿 (“main palace” /honden/) and 宮殿 (“palace” /kyuuden/).  The kanji 臀 is used for 臀部 (“buttock” /de’nbu/).

(5) The kanji 異 “different” revisited

Now, finally, we get back to the kanji 異. [reminder: The image is shown at the top.] Our original view on oracle bone style and bronze ware style remain unchanged: it was a pictograph, and had the image of a person with a mask on his face. But in ten style, we need to modify that the man with a mask offers his votive play on a raised platform where the god could see the play well. In that the bottom was the legs of a stage, instead of two hands. This allows us to conclude that the two bottom strokes in 共 had two different origins: (1) two hands holding something up and (2) legs of a table.

(I would like to thank Antoniomarco for this opportunity for us to revisit the kanji 異 and put it in a different light. -Noriko) [September 26, 2014]

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