Happy Valentine’s Day!
(1) The kanji 愛 “love”
There are at least two different interpretations of the origin of the kanji 愛. There is no oracle bone style available to us but two bronze ware writings, in green, are shown on the left. In the left one, the top was a person leaning back because his stomach was full, signifying “filled with,” and the bottom was a “heart.” – It described his heart filled with emotions. Another interpretation is that the second writing consisted of a person facing toward the right side, signifying looking backward, a heart inside a circular line and a long line coming down – It described a person looking back because the heart inside him found it hard to leave because of emotions.
The ten style writing, in red, seems to favor the second interpretation. In ten style, in addition to what the second bronze ware style had, it had a “dragging foot” at the bottom. For 愛 with the top and the bottom together they meant the state of mind that one could not move forward because his heart was filled with emotions. That is “love.” In kanji the top becomes the shape that we find in the kanji 受, which I call “a hand from above” [in the May 24, 2014 post], but I do not think it is related to a hand in this case. The katakana /tsu/ shape is used as a simpler replacement in many kanji. The circular shape that surrounded the heart in ten style was kept above the heart.
There are two kun-yomi. /Ito/ is in 愛しい /itoshi’i/ “dear; beloved” and /mana/ is in 愛娘 (“someone’s loving daughter” /manamu’sume) and 愛弟子 (“one’s favorite disciple or student” /manadeshi/.) The on-yomi /a’i/ is in 愛情 (“affection; love” /aijoo/), 恋愛 (“love; romance” /ren-ai/), 愛用する (“to use habitually; cherish” /aiyoo-suru/) and 愛車 (“one’s own car” /aisha/).
(2) The kanji 恋 “to be in love; romance”
The kanji 恋 had a totally different shape in ten style. It had two skeins of threads on both sides, and in the center was a tattoo needle over a mouth that meant “word or language,” and a heart below that. Together they meant that a heart was so tangled up with emotions or yearnings, like many threads tangled up, and did not know how to express itself in words. It meant “to be in love.” In the kyujitai, in blue, the heart was moved out to the bottom to be more conspicuous. In shinjitai, the top became 亦. What a difference! But this seemingly simplified shape also has its own history too.
The history of the shape 亦 is shown on the right side. In oracle bone style through ten style, it was a person and two dots on both sides, indicating “both sides.” (Its bronze ware style, not shown here, is practically identical to oracle bone style.) The kanji 亦 is sometimes used as /mata/ “also” even though it is not a Joyo kanji. Now I am beginning to wonder if the reason why this shape was chosen for shinjitai simplification in 恋 was because it had a person and two dots on either side, signifying that a person whose heart was confused must be in love. Well, I may be reading too much into it. (In case you are wondering about the kanji 変 “strange; to change”– It (變) contained the same element at the top in ten style, but its bronze ware style was different. We need to explore more about the kanji 変 later on.)
The kun-yomi /ko’i/ is in 恋 (“being in love; romance” /ko’i/), 初恋 (“first love; puppy love” /hatsukoi/), 恋文 (“love letter” /koibumi/), 恋する (“to be in love; to yearn” /koisu’ru/). The on-yomi /ren/ is in 恋愛 (“love; romance” /ren-ai/) and 失恋 (“broken heart” /shitsuren/).
(3) The kanji 憂 “anxious; melancholy”
Since we have covered two important kanji 愛 and 恋 for Valentine’s Day today, we move on to a couple of kanji that are closely related to the kanji 愛. The two kanji 愛 and 憂 share the same components with “a heart inside” and “a “backward foot.”
We have three samples of bronze ware style writings here. The left-most one had a person whose head was covered with something, and a hand in front. What he was wearing was a veil for mourning. The middle one had something at the foot that looked like a hand from the back, preventing him from moving. The third one looks like there was a hand in front of his head, pushing him back. Together they meant the sorrow one feels in mourning that prevented one from moving. In ten style, the top became 頁 without the two short strokes at the bottom. The shape 頁 originally came from an official or ceremonial headdress and meant “head.” We discussed this shape (pronounced as /ke’tsu/) that meant “head” in an earlier post [on November 15, 2015]. The bottom had a heart inside. Together they meant “to feel anxious about; be worried about; melancholy.”
The kun-yomi 憂い /urei/ means “melancholy,” and is also in 憂い顔 (“sorrowful face” /ureigao/). The on-yomi /yu’u/ is in 憂鬱 (“melancholy” /yuuutsu/), and the verbal phrase 杞憂に終わる (“to be proven unfounded” /kiyuu ni owaru/.) The word 杞憂 (/kiyuu/ “groundless worry”) came from a fable that people in a country named 杞 /ki/ were worried that the sky would break and fall.
(4) The kanji 優 “excellent; actor”
The kanji 優 has a twist to it too. In terms of the shape, you just add a bushu ninben “person” on the left side and the right side was phonetically used for /yu’u/. But when you dig up a little deeper with knowledge of the origin of the right side 憂, a story comes out like this — It signified the posture that a person took when feeling melancholy, and the person who took that posture, with his/her feel dragging gracefully, was an actor in a play of tragedy. In ancient times music and plays were votive offerings. They were important parts of worshiping, and an actor’s role was to express emotions and appeal gracefully to the god. From that the kanji 優 meant “graceful” and “actor.” On the other hand an actor who played a comedic role was 俳 /ha’i/. The kanji 俳 is used in a Japanese literary genre haiku (俳句) that came from 俳諧 (“playful literary genre” /haikai/). So, a 17-syllable poem haiku is a poem in which one expresses the light side of one’s emotion. The word for an actor in Japanese, 俳優 /haiyuu/, contains both the kanji 優 and 俳, and the origin of that word was a person who could play both tragedy and comedy.
The kun-yomi 優れる /sugure’ru/ means “to excel.” Another kun-yomi 優しい /yasashii/ means “gentle-hearted.” The on-yomi /yu’u/ is in 優雅な (“elegant” /yuuga-na/), 優先する (“to prioritize” /yuusen-suru/), 優秀な (“excellence” /yuushuu/) and its original meaning 俳優 (“actor” /haiyuu/) and 声優 (“voice actor” /seeyuu/) in modern times.
Well, doing researching and writing about kanji that deal with emotion drains me of my energy. So, I end today’s post here. We will continue with many more kanji with 心 “heart.” [February 14, 2015]