Bushu rumata 殳 and kanji 役投段殺


In this post, we are going to look at the kanji that have a bushu commonly called rumata 殳.  This bushu has many names including hokodukuri (/hoko/ is a pike or spear.)  The name rumata is easier to remember because it is a katakana ル/ru/ and a kanji 又 /mata/.

1. The Kanji 役 “battle; war; role”

HistoryofKanji役In the two oracle bone style samples of 役,  it consisted of a person on the left and a hand holding a long object that had an emphasis at the top.  This is believed to be a spear-like weapon.  In ten style, the left side became the left side of a crossroad and meant going to a battle to guard the boundary as communal duty. It meant a “battle; soldier.”

There is no kun-reading. The goon, an older on-reading, was /e’ki/ and is mostly used for something that one is forced to do, including 兵役 (“military service” /heeeki/), 服役 (“doing time in prison” /hukueki/). The kan-on on-reading is /yaku/. In Japanese, the use of this kanji was extended to mean “role; someone who has a particular role” in general, such as 役員 (“officer of an organization” /yaku’in/), 役人 (“government official” /yakunin/), 主役 (“leading role” in play /shuyaku/), 役に立つ (“to be useful” /yaku’ni tatsu/) and 役目 (“role; obligation” /yakume’/).

2.The kanji 投 “to throw”

HistoryofKanji投In the ten style writing of the kanji 投, the left side was a hand, signifying an act that one does using a hand; and the right side was a hand holding a spear-like weapon, signifying an action that one does with the weapon.  Together they meant “to throw.”

I had originally found it very difficult to understand from the ancient writing that the top of the ten style was a spear-like weapon. It looks nothing like a long object, unlike the oracle bone style of 役 in 1. But when you think about a weapon in a ceremonial use, it is very likely to have decorative stuff at the top.  The kanji 我 did have a lot of decoration on a halberd.  So, I feel less puzzled about it now.

In kun-yomi /nage’ru/ is in 投げつける (“to fling; hurl” /nagetsukeru/),  放り投げる (“to toss” /hoorinage’ru/).  The on-yomi /too/ is in 投手 (“pitcher” /to’oshu/), 投資 (“investment,” from you put in capital, /tooshi/).

3. The kanji 段 “step; grade; paragraph”

HistoryofKanji段In the bronze ware style writing of the kanji 段, the left side was the stacks of stones, and the right side was a hand holding a pounding tool. It was a scene of a blacksmith forging metal to make weapon by a stone hearth.  It meant “step; grade” and it was also used for “paragraph.”

There is no kun-reading. The on-reading is in 階段 (“stairs” /kaidan/), 段階 (“dankai” /stage; step/). For martial art, and other competitive games, 段 /da’n/ shows the level of achievement.

4. The Kanji 殺 “to kill”

There are various different views on the origin of the kanji 殺.  The right side seems to be agreed by many scholars that it was a hand and a weapon that meant “to hit with a weapon.” But the views on the left side differ. One view is that on the left side メ was “scissors” and 木 (ホ) was “millet stalk”; together they signified “to harvest and strip millet” or further, “to kill.” This view is found in the kanji book called Kanjigen.

HistoryofKanji殺Another view I would like to discuss in this blog using the ancient writing samples on the left is a modified view from Shirakawa’s explanation.  In oracle bone style and bronze ware style, it was an animal that harmed people (with an evil curse, according to Shirakawa.)  The third shape, in purple here, was an earlier style that the Setsumon in the 2nd century included along with the ten style, in red. Being an earlier writing it presumably was closer to its origin.  In that the left side was an animal and the right side was a hand with a weapon. Together they meant “to kill an animal that harms people.”  From that it meant “to kill.”  It also meant “to reduce.”

The kun-reading 殺す (“to kill” /korosu/) is in 見殺しにする (“to leave in the lurch” /migoroshi-ni suru/), 殺し文句 (“clincher; killing expression” /koroshimo’nku/).  The on-reading /sa’tsu/ is in 殺人 (“murder” /satsujin/).  Another on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 相殺する (“to compensate; to balance” /soosai-suru/).  The word 殺風景 (“desolate; bleak” /sappu’ukee/) literally meant “a scenery whose beauty is reduced.”

Well, for a kanji for which we learn four little components, メ, 木, 几 and 又, it leaves us in a maze.  The important thing for us is just to know that the kanji 殺 has a bushu rumata 殳 that means “to hit.”

There are a number of other kanji that have a bushu rumata, including 設 “to set up”; 殻 “shell: hull” (after threshing, which is hitting the grain) and 穀 “grain” (threshing required.  Do you see a bushu nigihen “rice plant” at the left bottom?); 殿 “feudal lord,” originally “buttock” (we touched this story in the previous post on September 26, 2014); and 殴 “to hit; knock; beat.”

In the next two posts, I would like to talk about kanji that have a bush bokuzukuri “to cause an action,” including the kanji 改攻枚教.  [October 10, 2014]

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