Year of the Sheep 美義養祥詳善様 – 羊ひつじ(2)


We continue the story of kanji that contain 羊.

 (1) The kanji 美 “beauty; aesthetic”

History of Kanji 美Different interpretations on the origins include: (a) The combination of 羊 “sheep,” which had a pretty appearance, and 大 “a person” meant “beautiful”; (b) sheep (羊) that is mature and large (大) looked impressive, thus “beautiful”; or (c) viewing the whole as a single image of a sheep, with its head and front and hind legs, that looked pretty. The three ancient writings are shown on the left. In oracle bone style (brown), bronze ware style (green), and ten style (red.) In the Key to Kanji I took view (a) but now that I have spent some time looking at the sample photos of oracle bone style and bronze ware style, treating the image as a single image (view (c)), rather than being made up of two separate meanings, is more appealing to me.

The kun-yomi is 美しい (”beautiful” /utsukushi’i/). It is used more in literature than in conversation. The on-yomi /bi/ is in 美 (”beauty; aesthetics”/bi’/), 美人 (“beautiful woman” /bijin/), 美男子 (“handsome man” /bida’nshi/), 美術 (“fine art” /bi’jutsu/), and 美談 (“moving story” /bi’dan/.)

(2) The kanji 善 “good; virtue”

History of Kanji 善In Akai (2010) there are as many as 12 bronze ware style samples included. All except one looked very similar to the one shown, in green, on the left. It had a sheep at the top and two 言 “word; language” at the bottom. Why did it have two 言? One view is that “two” meant many, and it meant many people praising with words. Another is that “two” meant two parties in a court that would be judged which side was right, based on the behavior of a sacrificial sheep (Shirakawa). In ten style it had only one 言, but then in the orthographic style (正字), shown in gray here, two 言 returned. In shinjitai, 羊 and the top of 言 coalesced, and口 was kept at the bottom. There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ze’n/ means “good; virtue,” and in 善良な (“good-natured” /zenryoona/), 善戦する (“to fight bravely” /zensen-suru/), 善処する (“to take the appropriate steps” /ze’nsho-suru/).

 (3) The kanji養 “to support; foster; nutrient”

History of Kanji 養In oracle bone style for the kanji 養, the left side was a sheep, and the right side was a hand holding a stick. Together it signified sheep farming. Sheep provided good meat. In ten style, the top was a sheep and the bottom was food in a bowl, which was the precursor to the kanji 食 “to eat.” In kanji, the bottom is the kanji 食, except that the top two strokes do not meet. It meant “to support (by providing food); foster.”

The kun-yomi 養う/yashina’u/ means “to support (by providing food); foster.” The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 養分 (“nutrient; nourishment” /yo’obun/), 栄養 (“nutrition” /eeyoo/), 休養 (“rest” /kyuuyoo/) and 養子 (“adopted child” /yooshi/).

 (4) The kanji 祥 “auspicious”

History of Kanji 祥In ten style, the left side was an altar table, and the right side was used phonetically to mean “a sign in divination.” The words of the gods were taken to be a good, favorable omen. From that it meant “auspicious; show of future success.” The kyujitai reflected the ten style writing. The left side示 (“to reveal; demonstrate” /shimesu/) was originally from “the god showing a sign an altar table,” so it meant “religious matter.” In shinjitai it got replaced by the shape that was similar to a katakana /ne/. (A katakana /ne/ was taken from the left side of the kanji 袮 from 禰).

The kanji祥 is not a Joyo kanji but it is in 吉祥 “good omen.” It is also used in mundane words such as 不祥事 (“scandal” /husho’oji/).

 (5) The kanji 詳 “detail; to clarify”

History of Kanji 詳The ten style of the kanji 詳 had a bushu gonben “word; language.” It shared the same sound /sho’o/ with the kanji祥 above that meant “auspicious.” With a gonben, it originally meant “to explain the god’s good words.” Now the religious flavor was dropped and it meant “details: to clarify.” The kun-yomi 詳しい /kuwashi’i/ means “in detail; knowledgeable.” The on-yomi /sho’o/ is in 詳細 (“details” /shoosai/).

(6) The kanji 義 “morality; significance”

History of Kanji 義In oracle bone style, a long bar in the middle had a sheep’s head, and the middle was a saw. In bronze ware style the sheep was separated at the top, and the bottom was a more elaborate halberd that had saw-like blades. Together they meant cutting a sacrificial sheep with a saw to prepare it as offering to the god. Something suitable for the god meant “morality; just.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /gi/ is in 正義 (“justice; right” /se’egi/), 義務 (“obligation” /gi’mu/), 義理 (“moral obligation; indebtedness” /giri’/), 意義ある (“significant; meaningful” /i’giaru/).

The kanji 義 made up a few more kanji. When a bushu gonben “word; to speak” was added to 義, it created the kanji 議 “to discuss what is just” or “to discuss.” When a bushu ninben “person” was added to 義, it created the kanji 儀 “protocol; propriety,” as in 礼儀 (“courtesy; etiquette” /reegi’/), When a bushu ushihen “cow; animal in general” was added, it made the kanji 犠 “sacrificial; victim,” as in 犠牲者 (“victim” /gise’esha.)

(7) The kanji 様 “appearance; manner: honorific form of address”

History of Kanji 様For the kanji 様, the left side of the ten style writing had a tree 木and the right side, the combination of 羊 and 永, was used phonetically and meant a sawtooth oak.


Ten 永

The kanji 永 “very long time” came form an image of tributaries, as shown on the right. The account in the Setsumon Kaiji was that it was an acorn of a kunugi tree “sawtooth oak.” A kunugi tree is native to the Far East. I gather from various articles that sawtooth oak trees have been spreading fast in the United States as a source of food for wild life because they mature fast and have a heavy crop of acorns. The kanji 様 meant “appearance; manner.”

Sawtooth Oak-Bark and Acorns

Sawtooth Oak: Bark and Acorns

Having seen a number of photos of kunugi trees in Japan and the U. S., two characteristics have intrigued me. First, the thick cork-like bark has deep ridges that run like the ancient writing for “tributaries” (永.)  Second, a round acorn is in a cup-shape receptacle that looks like, well, a wig, rather than a smooth surface (two photos on the right.)  Could the image, such as the one on the right, have been the reason for choosing 羊 that had many lines?  I think it is reasonable to think that in making up a new 形声文字 “semantic-phonetic composite writing,” creators of ancient writing had some sort of semantic association in mind in addition to phonetic use, rather than choosing randomly. Using your imagination based on what you know is a part of the fun in thinking about the etymology of kanji.  The kyujitai 樣, in blue, reflected the ten style writing. In shinjitai, 永 has been simplified.

The kun-yomi /sama/ means “appearance; state; manner” and is in 有様 (“state; condition” /a’risama/) and 様になる (“to start looking appropriate” in casual style /sama ni na’ru/). The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 様子 (“appearance; look” /yoosu/), 同様に (in a similar manner” /dooyoo-ni/), 模様 (“pattern” /moyoo/). Additionally two different uses were added in Japan. One is 様 /sama/ as a polite form of addressing someone. Another use is in adverbial phrase 〜の様だ (“it appears or looks X” /X no yo’oda/).

This post ended up long again, because there are so many kanji that have 羊 and we regularly use them in daily life. With the versatile usefulness of sheep to people’s daily life as well as in religious life in ancient times, the kanji 羊 brings us all around goodness. [January 17, 2015]

Photos: (1) the bark of a kunugi tree and (2) the acorns of  a kunugi tree taken in Kanagawa Prefecture by Mr. Jugemu.

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