However small, every component of kanji had a role to play in its origin. The shape that looks like a truncated katakana /ku/ (ク) that we see at the top of the kanji 急, 負, 色 and 危 is no exception. It would have been more convincing if we had a sample writing in oracle bone style or bronze ware style. Fortunately we had a full range of ancient style writings for the kanji 及. A newly joined reader may say, “The kanji 及 does not have a truncated /ku/ shape.” That is true, but in one of the earlier posts [February 7, 2015 post] we saw that in ten style 急 and 及 had shared the same shape, as shown on the right side.
The kanji 及 It is reasonable that what we see in the development of 及 can be used to understand the shape in 急負色危. For the kanji 及, in oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it had a person standing, bending his back slightly. Then in ten style, in red, his arms stretched long and his back bent forward deeply. This shape became the kanji 及, and 急 by adding 心 “heart” at the bottom. From this we can say that the truncated /ku/ shape in those kanji meant “person” standing or crouching with his arms extended. Let us look at three kanji here.
The kanji 負 “to bear; carry on one’s back”
In the ten style of the kanji 負, the top was a person with a stooped back. The bottom was a cowry that represented something valuable or money. Together a person carrying money or something on his back meant “to carry something on the back.” Carrying a burden or debt on one’s back also meant “to owe.” It was also extended to mean “loss.”
The kun-yomi 負う /ou/ means “to owe; carry on his back,” and is in 重任を負う (“to bear a heavy responsibility” /juunin-o ou/) and 背負う (“to carry on one’s back; to shoulder” /seo’u/). Another kun-yomi 負ける /makeru/ means “to lose” and is in 勝ち負け (“victory and defeat” /kachi’make/) and 根負けする (“to have one’s patience exhausted” /konmake-suru/). The on-yomi /hu/ is in 負担 (“to bear” /hutan/), 自負する (“to take pride in; flatter oneself in” /jihu-suru/). Another sound /bu/ is in 勝負 (“match; fight” /sho’obu/.)
The kanji 危 “perilous; danger”
The ten style of the kanji 危 had a person crouching dangerously on top of a cliff (厂). It signified something perilous or dangerous. To emphasize danger, another person crouching was added under the cliff. From someone being scared, it meant “danger; perilous.” In kanji, however, the person changed to the shape that had some similarity to hushizukuri (卩), except that the bottom goes up. This is another shape of a “person” in other kanji, such as 犯 “to violate” and 氾 “to flood.”
There are two kun-yomi for 危. 危ない /abunai/ means “dangerous” and 危うく /ayauku/ “almost; nearly” is used when a danger is averted in the end, in the phrase such as 危うく遅刻するところだった (“I almost arrived late (but I did not)” /ayauku chikokusuru-tokoro’-datta/). The on-yomi /ki/ is in 危険物 (“dangerous article” /kike’nbutsu/), 危惧する (“to feel apprehensive about” /ki’gu-suru/), and 危機一髪で (“in the nick of time” /ki’ki ippatsu/.)
The kanji 色 “color; characteristics of; lust”
In the ten style of the kanji 色, the top was a person, and the bottom was another person. Together they meant amorous affairs. The meaning of color comes from the heightened facial color. It was also used as “characteristics.” In kanji the bottom became the shape 巴 called /tomoe/. (It is not a Joyo-kanji.) In judo there is a throw called 巴投げ /tomoenage/ “somersault throw” from a crouched position. I do not know if it is an official name of 技 (“winning move” /waza’/). The kun-yomi 色 /iro’/ means “color; complexion; lust; kind,” and is in 色々な (“various” /iroirona/), 色紙 (“color folding paper for origami craft” /iro’gami/), 色事 (“amorous affairs” /irogo’to/). The on-yomi /sho’ku/ is in 特色 (“specific character” /tokushoku/). Another on-yomi /shi’ki/ is in 色素 (“pigment” /shiki’so/.)
The kanji 絶: The kanji 色 also appears on the right side of the kanji 絶. The writing in gray is an old style given in Setsumon. It has shelves of skeins of threats. In ten style, we can see that the top right came from a knife rather than a person, shown on the right. From “cutting (/se’tsu/ phonetically meant “to cut”) threads with a knife,” it meant “to cut; cease.” They are related in meaning in that the kanji 絶 “to cut; cease” came from “cutting beautiful color threads.” Beautiful color threads gave the meaning of “exquisitely beautiful.” Something was so exquisitely beautiful that it would not allow comparison, thus “absolutely.”
The next four kanji 配巻港 and 選 share the component 己.
The kanji 己: The kanji 己 by itself means “self” as in 自己 (“self” /ji’ko/), 知己 (“someone who knows me well; good friend” /chi’ki/), and 利己的な (“selfish” /rikoteki-na/). The meaning “oneself’ seemingly fits well with the meaning of “person.” However, the development of 己 as kanji is unrelated to “person,” as shown on the right. The three ancient styles are generally interpreted as some sort of ruler or tool used in carpentry work. It was just borrowed to mean “self.”
The kanji 配 “to hand out; deliver”
In oracle bone style and bronze ware style of the kanji 配, the left side was a rice wine cask, and the right side was a person with his hands on his knees watching the rice wine cask closely. It signified a person sitting in front of rice wine to be served or a person who stayed close by. It meant “to deliver; deal; hand out.” In ten style, the shape for the person on the right side became one continuous line, dropping the hands, and became the 己 shape in kanji.
The kun-yomi 配る /kuba’ru/ means “to distribute; arrange.” The on-yomi /hai/ is in 配達する (“to deliver (good)” /haitatsu-suru/), 配分する (“to distribute; apportion among” /haibun-suru/), 配偶者 (“spouse” /haigu’usha/). Another sound /pai/ is in 心配する (“to worry” /shinpaisuru/).
The kanji 巻 “to roll”
In the ten style of the kanji 巻, in the bottom half we see a crouched person under two hands. But what was the top half about? There are at least two different views. One view was that it was rice (米), and altogether they meant two hands making rice ball. From that it meant “to roll.” Another view was that the top was an animal paw, which signified animal hide. (An animal hide was used to write a pledge and cut in half as a stub, as in the kanji 券.) Together they meant two hands rolling an animal hide. By the time of kyujitai kanji, in blue, there was a drastic change. Before paper was invented, a record was written on bamboo or wooden tablets that were tied together and rolled up for storage. From that the kanji 巻 is also used as a volume counter for a serial.
The kun-yomi 巻く /maku/ means “to roll” and the word 海苔巻き (“seaweed sushi roll” /nori’maki/), 巻き込まれる (“to get dragged into” /makikomare’ru/). The on-yomi /ka’n/ is in 第三巻 (“third volume” /da’i sa’nkan/). Another on-yomi /ke’n/ is in 席巻する (“to sweep over” /sekken-suru/).
The kanji 港 “port”
For the kanji 港, we have three different ten style samples shown on the left. Writing (a) is comprised of 共 “together” at the top, from many hands holding up something together, and the bottom 邑 “village,” from an area where many people live. Together they meant a busy place where many activities were happening. Writing (b) had two 邑 “village” on both side of 共, signifying the same as (a). These two ten style writings, (a) and (b), were shared by another kanji 巷 /chimata/. The kanji 巷 is not a Joyo-kanji but the word /chimata/ means “crowded town.” It is used in a phrase such as 巷の噂では (“according to a rumor in town” /chimata-no-uwasa-de’wa/), quoting irresponsive, most likely an unfounded, rumor. Writing (c) had water on the left side and writing (a) on the right side, and it became the kanji shape 港. Together they meant a waterfront where many people come, which is a port. The kun-yomi 港 /minato/ means “port.” The on-yomi /ko’o/ is in 空港 (“airport” /kuukoo/) and 漁港 (“fishing port” /gyokoo/.)
The kanji 選 “to select”
It has been a while since we looked at the kanji 選 [September 26, 2014, post] in connection with the meaning of 共. Let us revisit this kanji, focusing on the two little 己 above 共 this time. In both bronze ware style and ten style, two people were putting their hands on their knees, which were bent. They also had a footprint and a cross road even though the placement was different — side by side, in bronze ware style; and at top and the bottom, in ten style. From select people doing votive dancing on a stage for the god to see, it meant “to select.”
Well, we have seen quite a lot of shapes that came from a posture that a person made using the whole body. I feel I ought to make a table of those shapes so that we can review them. It is time for us to move to another topic for now. [April 26, 2015.]