Kanji Radical 女 おんなへん-女好妹要妻安 – “woman”

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Kanji 女 Stroke Order

Kanji 女 Stroke Order

In this post we are going to look at the kanji that contain a bushu onnahen 女 “woman; female; feminine.” The stroke order is shown on the right: The long horizontal line is the last stroke. Some readers may find this stroke order “counter-intuitive,” as many of my former students lamented in their kanji quizzes. It is a hiragana /ku/ く, a katakana /no/ ノ and a kanji 一. The slang /kuno’ichi/ (くノ一) means “female ninja.” Well, at least that is what you hear in ninja movies and anime stories. (I wouldn’t know about the world of ninja.) But for us, it is useful to remind us of the correct stroke order of the kanji 女.

(1) The kanji 女 “woman; female; feminine”

History of the Kanji 女It is not surprising to find an abundance of ancient writings for the kanji 女. In oracle bone style (in light brown), (1) and (2), it was a person kneeling with arms crossed in front. The pliant posture of the person meant “a woman.” The direction in which a woman faced was the flip side of each other. As noted in earlier posts, in oracle bone style the direction that a figure faced did not seem to carry any particular meaning, whereas in later writing facing right meant looking back or a backward movement. In bronze ware style (in green), in the right one, (4), the line that signified the body and the legs lost a sharp bend that showed kneeling that (3) had. And yet in ten style (in red) the bent knee returned. Her left hand got elongated to reach the floor.

A few posts ago, I treated the left side of the bushu ninnyoo,儿, as a hand. I have also left the possibility of a different interpretation, a leg. But here both 女 and a ninny, 儿, in ancient writings seem to direct us to view that it was a hand. Based on that interpretation, we are going to say that in kanji 女 the first strokes came from two hands and the last horizontal stroke represented the body and legs. I find it a little odd, so I am welcoming other interpretations from readers.

The kun-yomi 女 /onna’/ means “woman,” and is in 女の子 (“girl” /onna’noko/), 女らしい (”woman-like; feminine” /onnarashi’i/) and 女っぽい (“feminine with sex appeal” /onnappo’i/). Another kun-yomi /me/ is in 女々しい (“womanish” /memeshi’i/), The on-yomi /jo/ is in 女性 (“woman” /josee/), 長女 (“first-born daughter; oldest daughter” /cho’ojo/) and 男女 (“both sexes; a man and a woman” /da’njo/). Another on-yomi /nyo/ or /nyo’o/ is a go-on and is in 女房 (“wife; my wife” /nyo’oboo/).

(2) The kanji 好 “to like; favorable; good”

History of the Kanji 好In the first three oracle bone styles of the kanji 好, (1), (2) and (3), a woman was sitting on her heels with a child on her knees. It suggested the tender loving way in which a woman cared for a child. It meant “to like; fond of; good; beautiful.” In bronze ware style, the position of the woman and the child in (4) was the mirror image of (5). In ten style, (6), the woman was placed on the left and the child on the right. Only a left-facing woman remained in ten style. In fact, based on the way the knee was bent, the woman even appeared to be showing her back to the child. But this is because by the time of ten style shapes were not writing from images but just writings. Ten style was the last ancient writing before rei style (隷書 /reesho/), the first kanji style which went through dramatic standardization of shapes. As a bushu onnahen, the last stroke goes up slightly.

The kun-yomi /suki’/ means “to be fond of; like,” and is in 子供好きな (“being fond of a child,” /kodomozukina/) and 好きずきな (”a matter of individual taste or preference” /suki’zuki-na/). Another kun-yomi 好む /kono’mu/ means “to favor; like,” and is in お好みの (“favorite; of one’s choice” /okonomino/). The on-yomi /ko’o/ is in 好青年 (“nice young man; congenial youth” /koose’enen/) and 好物 (“favorite food” /ko’obutsu/).

(3) The kanji 妹 ”younger sister”

History of the Kanji 妹In oracle bone and bronze ware styles for the kanji 妹 “younger sister,” the left side had a tree with a line at the top. The line at the top signified that the tip of the tree was still growing and not matured yet. It was the kanji 未 “yet,” as in 未だ 〜ない (“not yet” /ma’da/) and 未来 (“future,” from the meaning of “yet to come” /mi’rai/). The right side was a “woman.” Together they meant a female member of the family who was yet to grow, which was “younger sister.” In ten style, the positions of 未 and 女 switched.

The kun-yomi /imooto/ means “younger sister.” The on-yomi /mai/ is in 姉妹 (“sisters” /shi’mai/) and 弟妹 (“younger brother and sister” /teemai/.)

(4) The kanji 要 “essential; important; to require; to need”

History of the Kanji 要In the history of the kanji 要, the shape 女 was not present originally. In oracle bone style the middle was a pelvis, and two hands were placed on the hip. It meant “waist” or “hip.” The waist is the center of one’s body and is important. So this writing came to be used to mean “essential.; important.” We have two shapes in ten style. The left one had the hip with both hand and two legs at the bottom. In the right one, because a woman has a more prominent hip, 女 was added at the bottom, but it still meant “essential; important; to require; to need.”

For the original meaning of “waist; hip” a new writing was created by adding a bushu nikuzuki “body part”, 腰 (“waist” /koshi/). This way of kanji formation – in which a shape that originally meant a part of a body got taken away to mean something else and that a new kanji had to be created for the original meaning by adding bushu nikuzuki “part of a body” – is quite common. We have already seen it in 殿 “feudal lord; palace; an official way of addressing someone” and 臀 “hip,” Another pair, 北 “north” and 背 “back; to betray,” is also a good example.

The kun-yomi is in 要る (“to need; require” /iru/). The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 要因 (“factor“ /yooin/), 要領 (“the gist” /yooryo’o/), 重要な (“important” /juuyoo-na/), 必要な (“necessary” /hitsuyoo-na/), and 要する (“to require” /yoo-su’ru/).

(5) The kanji 妻 “wife” and 夫 ”husband”

History of the Kanji 夫In order to understand the origin of 妻 (“wife” /tsu’ma/), looking at the history of the kanji 夫 (“husband” /otto/) may be useful. The history of the kanji 夫 is shown on the right.  In oracle bone style, bronze ware style and ten style, it was a man, 大, with a line at the top. The line at the top signified a ceremonial or formal hairpin that a groom wore at the wedding. It meant a “bride groom.” From that the kanji 夫 meant “husband; man.”

History of the Kanji 妻For the kanji 妻 “wife,” no oracle bone style or bronze ware style writing is available. In ten style, the top was a hair accessory that a bride wore; the middle was a hand from the side; and the bottom was a woman. Whose hand was it?  Two different views are possible– the hand could be the bride putting her hand on her hair accessory to signify her wedding; or a groom’s hand taking her as his bride. I tend to take the latter view. Together they meant “wife.”

The kun-yomi is in 妻 (“wife” /tsu’ma/). In modern Japanese, when you refer to your own wife, the word 家内 /ka’nai/ (and in some instances かみさん /kamisan/) is usually used. Someone else’s wife is 奥さん and 奥様 /o’kusan; o’kusama/ and never 妻 /tsu’ma/, particularly in speaking. The on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 夫妻 (“married couple; husband and wife” /fu’sai/) and 妻子 (“wife and child” /sa’ishi/),

(6) the kanji 安 “peaceful; inexpensive”

History of the Kanji 安In all of the ancient writings for the kanji 安 shown on the left, a woman, 女, was placed inside a house. It meant “quiet; secure; peaceful.” An inexpensive thing is less strenuous to obtain, so it also meant “inexpensive; cheap.” In a first-year Japanese class in a university program, whenever this kanji was introduced in the context of 高い and 安い (“expensive” /taka’i/ and “inexpensive” /yasu’i), I could almost predict female freshman students would react with disgust or at least annoyance to this kanji, thinking that a woman is cheap. But a woman sitting inside the house peacefully is the original meaning.

Another thing is that when I was copying the photos of ancient writing in Akai (1985 and 2010) last year to be used for the Visual Kanji video tutorials, I noticed that 安 in some of the oracle bone and bronze ware styles had an extra line at the bottom. I wondered if it was just a flaw in the making of the inscription or not. But the same thing happened in copying the kanji 保 “to keep.” Shirakawa’s explanation is that this was a ceremonial piece of clothing to protect someone from evil.

The kun-yomi is in 安い (“inexpensive” /yasu’i/), 安らかな (“peaceful’ /yasu’rakana/), 安上がり (“inexpensive; less cost” /yasua’gari/), 安値 (“low price” /yasu’ne/) and 目安にする (”to use as rule of thumb” /meyasu-ni-suru/). The on-yomi /a’n/ is in 安心 (“security; ease” /anshin/) and 不安な (“anxious; restless” /huanna/).

In the next post, I would like to discuss the kanji 母毎海悔毒梅, which originally contained the same shape as 女. [11-24-2014 Japan time]

Kanji Radical 頁 おおがい-順顔頭願

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In the four posts previously, we looked at different uses of a bushu ninnyoo にんにょう (儿) “a person kneeling with a hand in front.” The kanji with this shape we discussed were 元完院兄光児 (posted on 8/20/2014), 先洗育充統 (8/30/2014), 説税脱 (9/10/2014) and 売読続p (10/3/2014). In today’s post we are going to look at the kanji in which what would have been a ninnyoo got trimmed back to a katakana ハ shape because the top carried a more prominent meaning. I am talking about the bushu おおがい (頁). It means “head” and had nothing to do with 貝 (“shell” /ka’i/) in its origin.

The shape by itself, 頁 /ke’tsu/, is not in the Joyo kanji but it is commonly used to mean “page,” as in a page of a book. In fact in the Microsoft Word that I am using on a Mac, typing p-e-e-j-i will change to 頁. Typing in /ketsu/ will do the same, but for us Japanese, because it is not a kanji, it is hard to remember how it is pronounced in on-yomi. I always find this hidden conversion a little puzzling. But come to think of it, the same thing happens if you type /yajirushi/, which brings up an arrow such as ↓ and →. Even though it is not used as a kanji in Japanese, I have found a few ancient writings for 頁 in Akai (2010) that give us rather vivid images of the original meaning. So we start with 頁.

(1) The kanji 頁 “head”

History of Kanji 頁In the two oracle bone style samples (in brown), the top was the same as the oracle bone style of the kanji 首 “head; neck.” The history of the kanji 首 is shown on the right in a blue box. History of Kanji 首(f)In oracle bone style (in brown) it was an outline of a face with an eye inside and the hair at the top. (It also looks like an eye with an eyebrow.) In bronze ware style (in green) the hair got separated and in ten style (in red) the hair became three wiggly lines, which became the first two strokes in the kanji.

Now back to the kanji 頁 on the left side. We see that the top of 頁 in both oracle bone style and bronze ware style closely correspond with the top of 首. The bottom was the body, with one continuous line depicting the torso and a kneeling leg, and a short stroke for a hand in front. With this oversized head, the writing meant “head.” In bronze ware style the head became central and the body shrunk at the bottom. Ten style writings generally had more regulated shapes and became stylized in set ways. In 頁, the top became the same as that of 首, except the three wiggly lines. The bottom was the shape that was common in the ten style of the kanji that later on contain a bushu ninnyoo. In other words up to the ten style time, the bushu頁 shared the exactly same shape as the kanji with a bushu ninnyoo that we looked at in the four posts before.

In kanji, however, the shape got reduced to a mere ハ to give space for a head.  The long horizontal line at the top was a ceremonial hat that a man of position wore. What did the head or headdress look like? We wonder. An image search of, say, the first emperor 始皇帝, /shikootee/ “Shi Huangdi,” on the Internet gives us plenty of different images of him with different hats or headdress on his head. Of course these were drawn much much later with artistic license, but it does give some hint. I imagine that the hat that has a big square top and cloth or long braids hanging down in front is close to this kanji.

(2) the kanji 順 “order; orderly”

History of Kanji 順We already touched on the kanji 順 when we looked at the kanji 訓 (11-1-2014). The kanji 順 provides us with a few earlier shapes than ten style, so let us start with 順. We have three samples of the bronze ware style here. In the left-most one, a person with a big eye was bending his knees and looking at water flowing. In the middle one the head became closer to the kanji 自, which came from the nose in the center of one’s face. In the right one, on the left was “the stream of water” (川) and “word” (言), and on the right was a man with a tattooing needle at the top (a slave) kneeling. They all meant “to follow something in an orderly manner like the flow of a river.” In ten style it had water running into one direction and the shape for 頁. In kanji, the left side became the kanji 川 “river” and the right side was a bushu oogai. The kanji 順 means “order; orderly.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /jun/ is in 順番 (“order” /junban/), 順々に (“in turn” /junju’n-ni/), 順調に (“smoothly; without a snag” /junchoo-ni/.)

(3) The Kanji 顔 “face”

History of Kanji 顔In the bronze ware style of the kanji 顔, the top was a pattern (the origin of the kanji 文); the angle with a wiggly line below that meant a well-defined forehead of a handsome man; the right bottom was a face. Together they meant a handsome face of a man. In ten style the left bottom had three diagonal lines, which meant pretty patterns. The right side was a person kneeling with his head emphasized. In kyujitai kanji, the top kept the original shape of 文 but in shinjitai kanji it got somewhat simplified. The kanji 顔 means “face.”

The kun-yomi 顔 means “face” and in 笑い顔 (“smiling face” /waraigao/), 顔色 (“facial color” /kaoiro/), 顔が利く (“to have a lot of influence” /kao-ga-kiku/) and 顔を出す (“to put in an appearance” /kao-o-da’su/). The on-yomi ガン is in 顔面 (“face” /ganmen/). Incidentally the left side of 顔, 彦, is not a Joyo kanji but is used in a male name that parents intends to “good; capable man.” ひこ [possibly 日子] for a male name coming from yamatokotoba, old Japanese words before kanji were introduced, as contrasted to ひめ [possibly 日女] for a female name (姫).

(4) The kanji 頭 “head; chief”

History of Kanji 頭In the ten style of the kanji 頭, the left side was used phonetically, but it was originally an image of a tall bowl. It may have been chosen because the shape looks like a head above a long neck. The right side was the head. Together they meant “head.”

The kanji 頭 has a number of pronunciations. The kun-yomi /atama’/ 頭 “head” is in 頭がいい (“to have a good mind; smart” /atama’ ga i’i/), 頭に入らない (“cannot understand” /atama’ ni haira’nai/), 頭ごなしに (“mercilessly; without listening well” /atamago’nashi-ni/), 頭でっかち (“top-heavy” /atamadek’kachi/ [colloquial]). Another kun-yomi is /kashira’/ (“head; chief.”) The third kun-yomi /koobe’/ is in 頭を垂れる /koobe’ o tare’ru/ and it means “to hang down one’s head.”

The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 頭角を現す (“to distinguish oneself; stand out” /tookaku o arawa’su/). Another on-yomi /zu/ is a go-on and in 頭痛 (“headache” /zutsuu/). It is also used as the counter for a large animal such as 馬二頭 (“two horses” /uma ni’too/).

(5) The kanji 願 “wish; pray”

History of Kanji 願The left side of the kanji 願 is 原. The history of the kanji 原 is shown on the right. We make a small detour here too. History of Kanji 原 (f)In bronze ware style the left top was a mountain cliff. Underneath was water dripping out from the cracks in rocks where water originated in the ground. It originally meant “fountain; the source of water.” The inside by itself became the kanji 泉 (“spring fountain” /izumi/). Then it came to be used to mean “field; wild field.” (For the original meaning of “spring water; fountain” a new kanji with a bushu sanzui, 源, was created.) In ten style, it became a bushu gandare “mountain cliff” and the water became a straight line. In kanji it took the shape close to 泉, except the water became 小.

Now back to our kanji 願. The left side signified something that came from inside, and the right side was a head. Together they meant “wish; prayer” because one makes a wish in his head. The kun-yomi is in 願う/nega’u/ “to wish; pray” and お願いする “to make a request for a favor.” The expression よろしくお願いします /yoroshiku onegai shima’su/ that you say any time when you ask someone to do some sort of favor literaly means “I pray your favorable treatment of my request.” That is very flowery and stale, isn’t it. In real communication it would be “Thank you very much for helping me.” The on-yomi /ga’n/ is in 願書 (“application documents” /ga’nsho/), 願をかける (“to make a wish” /gan o kake’ru/)

There are a surprisingly large number of kanji that have a bushu 頁 including 頑 (/ga’n/ “stubborn” as in 頑固な (“stubborn” /ga’n kona/), 頬 (/ho’ho/ “cheeks”), 傾ける (/katamuke’ru/ “to tilt”(one’s head)), 頸 (/ke’i; kubi/) “neck”), 頂 (/cho’o; itadaki/ “the top; summit; to hold it above one’s head”), 領 (/ryo’o/ “to control” as in 大統領 “president” of a country) and 類 (/ru’i/ “kind,” which comes from samples of grains 米 and animals 犬).

In the next post, I am thinking about taking up kanji that contain 女. [November 15, 2014]

Kanji Radical 音 おと 暗闇意億憶臆 – “unclear”

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History of Kanji 言(Frame)In the last post we saw that the kanji 言 and a bushu gonben originated from a tattooing needle with an ink reservoir and a large handle at the top, and a mouth at the bottom. To refresh our memory, its development is shown on the right. In all of the ancient styles each part was discernable if we looked for it. By the time it became a kanji, the needle was simplified into four straight lines. In this post, we are going to see that there is a kanji that retained its ten style shape – the kanji 音 and several kanji that contain 音 as its components 暗闇意億憶臆.

1. The kanji 音 “sound”

History of Kanji 音Shown on the left is the development of the kanji 音, in bronze ware style (green) and ten style (in red). (There is no oracle bone style available.) If we compare this with the development of 言, above right, we see that, in bronze ware style and ten style, the only difference was one short line inside the mouth in 音. This extra line in 音 signified that the mouth was not empty. Because there was something inside the mouth what was articulated did not become words, but became just “sound.” From that 音 meant “sound.”

Now we are going to look at the kanji that use 音 as a component. I have observed that a shape used as a bushu in general tended to keep the original meaning, often more closely than when it was used alone as kanji. We need to examine what 音 means beyond what it means as a kanji, that is “sound.” We will look at kanji with two meanings: 1) from something inside preventing clear words, it signified “unclear; dark”; and 2) from something confined inside a mouth, it signified “containment; something not going out.”

2. The kanji 暗 “dark; unclear”

History of Kanji 暗In ten style the left side of the kanji 暗 was 日, “the sun.” When the sun is not clearly out and not being seen, it is dark. So the kanji 暗 means “dark; not visible.” The meaning also extended to knowledge, thus “ignorant of.” The kun-yomi 暗い (/kurai/) means “dark” and 薄暗い (/usugurai/) means “dimly lit.” The expression that 道理に暗い (/doori’ni kura’i/) means “being ignorant of reasoning.” The on-yomi /an/ is in 暗示する (“to imply; suggest” /anji-suru/), 暗黙の了解 (“understanding without saying; tacit understanding” /anmoku no ryookai/) and 暗号 (“code” /angoo/).

History of Kanji 諳[暗 and 諳] In the current writing system the kanji 暗 is also used in place of the kanji 諳 (/a’n/) with a bushu gonben, “to recite words by heart,” because 諳 is not included in the Joyo kanji.  On the right the ten style of 諳 is shown. It is very interesting to see 言 and 音 next to each other in ten style of the kanji 諳 and then in kanji. In ten style there was only one short line difference and yet in kanji the two components do not look similar at all.

The word 暗記する (“to memorize by heart” /anki-suru/) and 暗譜で弾く (“to play without sheet music” /anpu de hiku/) would be written as 諳記 and 諳譜, with a bushu gonben, had the real kanji been included in the Joyo kanji.

3. The kanji 闇 “darkness”

History of Kanji 闇rThere is another kanji that uses 音 and means darkness. That is the kanji 闇 (“darkness” /yami’/).  Words such as 暗闇 (“darkness” /kurayami/) or the more emphatic version 真っ暗闇 (“total darkness; pitch dark” /makkurayami/) are not unusual words at all, but this kanji was just included among the Joyo kanji in the 2010 revision. In ten style, there were two closed doors with a latch above, 門, and the component 音 inside.  The closed doors hid things. The kanji 門 means a gate, but when used as a bushu mongamae in many kanji, 門 does not mean “a gate” but rather “something hidden; unclear.”

4. The kanji 意 “intent”

History of Kanji 意Now we are going to look at the kanji that are related to something confined within one’s heart, such as feeling, intent or reluctance. They all have the kanji 意, with a heart, 心, at the bottom.

In the ten style of the kanji 意, the top was 音 and the bottom was 心 “heart.” Together they meant what was confined within a heart, “intent.” There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /i/ is in 意見 (“opinion” /i’ken/), 意味 (“meaning” /i’mi/), 同意する (“to agree” /dooi-suru/), 意地悪な (“spiteful; malicious” /iji’waruna/) and 注意する (“to pay attention to; to warn” /chu’ui-suru/.)

5. The kanji 億 “100 million”

History of Kanji 億There are three kanji in the 2010 revision of the Joyo kanji that use 意 on the right side — 億 “hundred million,” 憶 “to recollect; inside one’s heart” and 臆 “timid; reluctant.” None has a kun-yomi and the on-yomi is all /o’ku./

For the kanji 億, with a bush ninben, two bronze ware style samples are available to us. In them, there was no person or a heart, 心. But something else was there – a circle or a circle with a dot in the middle, below the needle and above a mouth. The circle must have signified that something got confined within and the dot emphasized that it was not empty.* In ten style, it had a person on the left, and a heart was added at the bottom. Together they meant “thought contained inside the heart.” 億 was used to mean “hundred million,” a number so big that it existed only in the mind of a person. 億 is also used in 億劫な (“bothersome; annoying” /okku’una/) to mean reluctance, but in informal communication hiragana is perfectly acceptable.

6. The Kanji 憶 “to recollect; inside one’s heart” and 臆 “timid; reluctant”

History of Kanji 憶With a bushu risshinben “heart” added to 音, we get the kanji 憶. It is used in 記憶 (“memory” /kioku/), 憶測する (“to make a random guess” /okusoku-suru/).

History of Kanji 臆When a bushu nikuduki, 月, “body part,” that was used to mean “bosom; heart,” is added to 音, we get the kanji 臆 “timid; reluctant.” The verb 臆する/oku-su’ru/ means “to be hesitant; to feel timid.”  The use of this kanji in the words 臆病な (“timid” /okubyo’ona/) and 臆面無く (“shamelessly” /okumenna’ku/) are found only in Japanese, according to Shirakawa.

Sometimes what is a precursor to a particular kanji is not agreed upon among kanji scholars. Having laid out all the available ancient writings that I think are relevant to this week’s topic, I now notice that the ten style of 意 and of 億, 憶 and 臆 are different. I am using Shirakawa [2004] as primary reference (for his accounts, and Akai (2010) for ancient writing images.)  But the Kadokawa kanji dictionary lists the ten style of 億 to be the ten style of 意.  Those four kanji are closely related, and at one point in history some kanji were used interchangeably. During the time when the kanji 臆, with a bushu nikuzuki, had been excluded from the Joyo Kanji list (until the 2010 revision), the kanji 憶, with a bushu risshinben, was used instead in some words, just as we are now using the kanji 暗, with a bushu hihen, to make up for the absence of a non-Joyo kanji 諳, with a gonben.

A week ago I thought writing about 音 would be an easy job because the ancient writings themselves tell us a clear story of the difference and similarity to 言. But I bumped into a couple of snags once I started digging a little deeper. Well, that is the fun of sharing with you what I have discovered by writing a blog! Thank you for your interest in reading the Kanji Portraits blog. [11-9-2014]

Kanji Radical 言 ごんべん – 言信訓誤

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In this post we are going to look at four kanji 言信訓誤 that contain the meaning “word; to say; language,” that is, a bushu gonben 言.

(1) The kanji 言 “to say”

History of Kanji 言In order to connect the origin of the kanji 言 to the meaning “word; to say; language,” we need to work a little because it has little visual connection. In all of the ancient writings — in bronze ware style (in light brown), bronze ware style (in green) and ten style (in red) — the top was a tattooing needle (辛) and the bottom was a mouth (口). A tattooing needle had an ink reservoir at the top and a large handle in the middle. Even though I did not have a problem with this interpretation that the shape was an image of a tattoo needle with a reservoir and a handle, I was still not fully convinced about the connection between the tattooing needle and the meaning “word; to say.” In references there are various different accounts. The sharpness of a needle signified the clarity of what one said is one of them. Re-reading Shirakawa’s account helped me understand it in another way. Together with 口 as a container where a prayer or pledge was kept, they meant making a pledge with the understanding that if one reneged he would be tattooed (Note*). So, the origin of the kanji 言 having a tattooing needle suggested the seriousness of one’s word. It meant “word; to say; language.”  When 言 is used as a component on the left it is called a bushu gonben, and has the same meaning as the kanji 言.

The kun-reading 言う /i(u)/ has a spoken form /yu(u)/ in words such as 田中さんて言う人 (“a person called Tanaka” /takanasan te-yuu hito; te-iu hito/). Another kun-reading /koto/ is in 言葉 (“word; language” /kotoba’/), 泣き言を言う(“to complain; cry over; whimper” /nakigoto o iu (yuu)/), 言伝を頼む (“to ask to give a verbal message” /kotozute-o tano’mu/). The on-reading /ge’n/ is in 発言する (“to speak (at a meeting)” /hatsugen-suru/), 言動 (“one’s speech and behavior” /gendoo/). Another on-reading /go’n/ is a go-on and is in the phrase 言語道断 (“unspeakably; outrageous” /go’ngo doodan/), 武士に二言は無し (“Samurai’s words are sacred; A promise is a promise”  /bu’shi-ni nigon-wa-na’shi/), 他言無用 (“Not a word to anyone” /tagonmuyoo/).

Tattoo in ancient China — In ancient times a tattoo was given to a war captive, who became a slave, and to a criminal. Sometimes, temporary tattoo was used in a religious rite. It appeared in the origin of other kanji as well. A couple of kanji that come to my mind now are 僕 (“servant; I [by a male speaker]”  /bo’ku/) and 童 (“child” /wa’rawa/). No doubt I will encounter more kanji as my work moves along. [If you are curious about a few interesting ancient shapes for the kanji 僕, it is discussed in Lesson 10 Section 1 in the Visual Kanji video course.]

The interpretation of 口 in ancient writing: There was a dispute among the kanji scholars in Japan on Shirakawa’s treatment of 口. Whether 口 is a “mouth” (as in a mouth on the face) that relates to “speaking” or a “container that contains a prayer or pledge” does not make any difference here because both relate to word or speaking.)

(2) The kanji 信 “to trust; correspondence”

History of Kanji 信For the kanji 信, the left one ( in purple) was given in Setsumon as 古文 (“old writing” /kobun/).  I am going to call this style shown in purple “pre-ten style” in this blog, based on the fact that the style in Setsumon is basically ten-style and that 古文 predated ten style.  In pre-ten style the left side was a person and the right side was a tattooing needle. In ten style, the right side took the shape of 言 with a mouth at the bottom added to the tattoo needle. Together they meant a person and his words being the same, or one’s words being true to himself. From that later on it came to mean “trust.” In kanji it is a bushu ninben and a kanji 言 together. It means “to trust; letter.” Here technically 言 is not a bushu gonben because it is not on the left side.  (-Hen or -ben means a recurring component that is on the left side of kanji.) But in our study, the position does not matter because the same origin retained the same meaning wherever it appeared.

There is no kun-reading in Joyo Kanji. The on-reading /shi’n/ is in 信じる (“to believe” /shinji’ru/), 信用する (“to believe; accept someone’s story as true” /shin-yoo-suru/), 信者 (“believer” /shi’nja/), 私信 (“private letter” /shishin/), 通信 (“telecommunication; correspondence” /tsuushin/).

(3) The kanji 訓 “lesson; Japanese reading of kanji”

History of Kanji 訓History of Kanji 順The kanji 訓 and 順 were closely related–川 appears in both kanji, and they shared the sample of bronze ware style writing. In the bronze ware writing for the kanji 訓 the top of the left side had a river (川), signifying following in one direction, and the bottom had “word”(言). These two elements were placed side by side in ten style, and the person on the right side was dropped and became 訓. From “teaching the correct way of following words,” it meant “a lesson.” In Japan, this also came to mean the way that one read Chinese characters in Japanese, which is the kun-reading.

For the kanji 順 (shown on the right), in the first sample of the bronze ware style, the right side had a person with a tattoo needle at the top, but in another sample, the tattoo needle was replaced by a person with big eyes bending the knees facing the river. Someone watching the flow of a river carefully meant observing the order. In ten style, the right side was replaced by the bush 頁 “head,” which originally depicted an official with a ceremonial hat on his head. The kanji 順 means “order; turn; obedient.”

There is no kun-reading for 訓 in the Joyo kanji. The on-reading /kun/ is in 教訓 (“lesson” /kyookun/), 訓練 (“training” /ku’nren/) and 訓読み (“Japanese pronunciation of Chinese character” /kun-yomi/.)

4) The kanji 誤 “mistake; error”

History of Kanji 誤For the kanji 誤, in ten style the left side was 言 and the right side was 呉. Because 誤 did not have an earlier writing than ten style, we bring in a couple of earlier writings of 呉 (in bronze ware style, in green). They are mirror images of each other — Each had a person with his head tilted and a mouth next to his head. In the ten style of the kanji 誤, 言 “word; language”was added. Together with the meaning of 呉 described above signified that the words that were spoken were different from what the person meant. It meant “mistake; error.” The kun-reading is in 誤る (“to make a mistake” /ayama’ru/) and 誤り (“mistake; error” /ayama’ri/). The on-reading /go/ is in 誤解 (“misunderstanding” /gokai/), 誤字 (“wrong letter or character; typo” /goji/) and 誤差 (“error” /go’sa/).

Additional note on the kanji 呉:  呉 was the name of the Wu dynasty. 呉音 /go-on/ of on-reading is a word that is related to this kanji. Also in Japanese it is used in the kun-reading 呉れる (“someone gives to me” /kureru/). The on-reading /go/ is also used in 呉服屋 (“kimono fabric store” /gohukuya/)(which came from the fabric that was woven in Wu style –the Koojien dictionary)

There are many many kanji that take a bushu gonben and all carry a meaning related to speaking or words. In the next post I would like to show you the kanji that you would never have suspected were related to the kanji 言 until you see the ancient writing. [11-1-2014]