Kanji Bushu 攵・攴 ぼくづくり (2) 攻改数敬警


In the last post, we looked at four kanji 枚散故教 that contained a bushu 攵 bokuzukuri. We began by tracing the current shape 攵 to 攴 and all the way to oracle bone style. It consisted of a stick in hand and an act of hitting or pounding something with a stick, and it signified “causing something to happen.” It was also used to mean “performing an act” in general. We continue to look at five more examples 攻改数敬警 in this post.

(1) Kanji 攻 “to attack; master”

History of Kanji 攻 "attack; master"For the kanji 攻, in bronze ware style (in green) and ten style (in red), the left side came from a large carpenter’s tool. The right side had a hand holding a stick. Moving a hand with a stick up and down signified “to hit.” Together they meant making a craft. The writing 攻 included people who were skilled in work with wood, metal, hide, bronze ware work, etc, and it meant “to master.” The skills also included military tactics, and from that it came to mean “to attack.”

The kun-reading 攻める /seme’ru/ means “to attack.” The on-reading /ko’o/ is in 攻撃する “to attack” /koogeki-suru/), 正攻法 (“a direct and fair attack” /seeko’ohoo/). It is also in 専攻 (“major; specialty in study” /senkoo/), an important word for a student.  It makes more sense that 専攻 means one “mastering” in the subject, rather than “attacking,” doesn’t it?

(2)  Kanji 改 “to renew; change”

History of kanji 改In two samples of oracle bone style (1 and 2 in brown) of 改, one side was something coiled, possibly a snake, that was about to straighten itself, and the other side was a hand holding a stick that caused something to happen.  Together they meant “to change; renew.” Two ten style samples (in red) are shown here.  Setsumon Kaiji gave the shape (3) as its ten style, but the accounts in the three references I used seem to refer to the shape (4), which originated from something coiled.

The kun-reading is 改める (“to renew; change” /aratame’ru/).  The on-reading is in 改正 (“revision” /kaisee/), 改良する (“to improve” /kairyoo-suru/) and 改札口 (“ticket checkpoint” /kaisatsu’guchi/).

(3) Kanji 数 “to count; number; many”

History of kanji 数For the kanji 数, the ten style of the kanji 数  had the shape攴. The left side of the kyujitai 婁 (in blue) reflected ten style. 婁 has different accounts among the references that I use.  View (1) –It was a woman’s hairstyle that was raised high, and during an interrogation her hairstyle collapsed, and hairs were numerous and hard to count. From that it meant “to find blame,” “to count” and “many.” [Jito- Shirakawa]  The meaning of “to find blame” is not used in kanji.  View (2) –The left side 婁:  Women caught (for presumably something bad) were tied in a string. Counting them tied on a string one by one meant “to count.” [Kanjigen]  View (3) –The left side 婁 was phonetically used and meant “to pull out.” The right side was a counting stick held in hand. Together they meant “to count.” [Kadokawa dictionary]  In Shinjitai (in black) the upper left was replaced with the kanji 米 “rice” from grains scattered, along with 女 “woman” and a bushu 攵.  The kanji 数 means “number; to count; numerous; a few.”

The kun-reading is in 数 (“number” /ka’zu/), 数える (“to count” /kazoe’ru/) and 数々の (“many” /ka’zukazu-no/).  The on-reading is in 数学 (“mathematics” /suugaku/), 数人 (“a few people” /suunin/) and 数字 (”numerals” /suuji/).

(4) Kanji 敬 “to respect

History of kanji 敬The kanji 敬 has an interesting turn in its history. In oracle bone style it was a person with a sheep’s head kneeling.  A sheep was used as a sacrificial animal for a religious rite, and a sheep is a meek animal. The bronze ware style sample on the left was the same image except it was flipped over. In the second bronze ware style sample, the left side was a person with a sheep’s head and a mouth underneath signifying saying a prayer. The right meant “to hit.”  An act of hitting someone to make him kneel down is admonishing him. Originally the writing meant “to admonish,” then its meek kneeling posture was construed as a posture of showing respect.  So the meaning changed to “to respect.”

The kun-yomi 敬う /uyama’u/ means “to respect.” The on-yomi /ke’e/ is in 尊敬する (“to respect” /sonkee-suru/), 敬礼する (“to salute” /keeree-suru/). The word 失敬する (“to say good bye” or “to steal” /shikke’e-suru/ ) is an expression of saying good by used by a male speaker, but it is also used to mean “to steal” in a light friendly way.

(5) The kanji 警  “to warn”

History of kanji 警After the kanji 敬 that had originally meant “to admonish” was taken to mean “to respect,” new kanji had to be created for “to warn.”  In a case like that usually another element is added to the original kanji.  (We have seen a good example of this in 右 from 又 a few months ago.)  That was what happened here too.  Adding the kanji, or bush, 言 “word; to say” resulted in a 19 stroke kanji. Together they meant “to admonish; warn.”  It was also used to mean witty remarks. There is no kun-reading.  The on-reading /ke’e/ is in 警告 (“warning” /keekoku/), 警察 (“police” /keesatsu/), 警報 (“alarm” /keehoo/), 警世の書 (“a book that rebukes society” /keesee no sho/) and 警句 (“witty remarks” /ke’eku/).

– – – – – – – –

On the kanji 数 in this post, rather than choosing one, I listed the different accounts from three references.  The Kadokawa dictionary, the view (3), gives you a very abbreviated account.  I find that their explanations by and large follow the accounts in Setsumon Kaiji.  It is a dictionary and it has a small space to discuss the origin. On the other hand, Shirakawa’s work, the view (1), pursued the origin of each kanji relentlessly, making references to all kinds of historical records including some ancient writings that had come to light only during the last century. He took the trouble of verifying the accounts in Setsumon.

The goal of my writing in this blog, and in the Visual Kanji site, is to find a way for a Japanese language learner to make sense of the kanji shape and its meaning in such a way that induces learning. In reality, one can learn a large number of kanji just by memorizing them. But sometimes we crave an explanation.  If the etymological account on a particular kanji does not help us to learn that kanji, we can leave it as it is. That is our prerogative not being a kanji scholar.  Personally, though, I enjoy thinking about what it might have been as I gaze at the ancient writing and read kanji scholar’s accounts.  When they come together, I feel satisfied.  [10-24-2014]

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