The Kanji 子字学孫孝身射謝


In this post, we are going to look at the kanji that contain the image of a “baby” (子) in 子字学孫孝保 and a “pregnant woman” (身) in 身射謝.

1. The kanji 子 “child”

History of Kanji 子In oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style, in red, it was a baby. Of a large number of samples available in reference there are two different types if we look at what the baby’s hands are doing. (a) and (c) have two arms in the same manner whereas (b) and (d) have one arm upward and the other downward. Shirakawa noted, with some reference to the ancient documents, that the second type meant a “prince.” Here we simply take them as the two wiggly hands of a baby. The kanji 子 meant “child.” It is also used for something that was produced from something else, such as interest from capital.

The kun-yomi /ko/ is in 子供 (“child” /kodomo/), どこの子 (“whose child” /do’ko-no-ko), 男の子 (“boy; male child” /otoko’noko/). The on-yomi /shi/ is in 女子 (“young women; girls” /jo’shi/), 弟子 (“disciple; student in traditional art” /deshi’/), 利子 (“financial interest” /ri’shi/), 子音 (“consonant” /shiin/). Another on-yomi /su/ is in 椅子 (“chair” /isu/).

2 The kanji 字 “writing; letter; character”

History of Kanji 字Placing a baby inside a house created the writing 字. A child was born in a house and was given a called name (字 /azana/) before getting a formal name. The writing for the name was used to mean “writing.” Also, writing was created one after another starting with a simple one, like a child being born. The kanji 字 means “writing; letter; character.”

The kun-yomi /azana/ means “called name; nickname” and /a’za/ was a small section of town in olden days. The on-yomi /ji/ is in 文字 (“writing; letter; character” /mo’ji/), 数字 (“figure; numeral” /suuji/), 字幕 (“subtitle; superimposed dialogue” /jimaku/), 字体 (“typeface; print; font type” /jitai/). In a tanka poem (5-7-5-7-7 syllables) and haiku poem (5-7-5 syllable), if a phrase exceeds the set syllable number, it is called 字余り (“poem with an extra syllable” /jia’mari/). (Technically speaking, in Japanese it is not a syllable but a mora, 拍 /ha’ku/.)

3. The kanji 学 “to learn; study”

History学The kanji 学 has the kyujitai 學. In oracle bone style (1), the top was two hands or people mingling (an “x” shape in the middle), and the bottom was a house. In bronze ware style (2) a child was added inside the house. Together they signified caring hands of adults helping children to learn in a schoolhouse. From a place of learning for children it meant “to learn.” The tops of the ten style (3) and kyujitai writings (4) were the same as those of the kanji 覚 [as discussed in the April 12, 2015, post.] The kun-yomi /mana/ is in 学ぶ (“to learn; study” /manabu/) and 学び舎 (“place of learning” [poetic style] /manabiya/). The on-yomi /ga’ku/ is in 通学する (“to commute to school” /tsuugaku-suru/) and 学習 (“learning; study” /gakushuu/) and /gatt/ is in 学校 (“school” /gakkoo/), 小学校 (“elementary school” /shooga’kkoo/).

4. The kanji 孫 “grandchild”

History of Kanji 孫In oracle bone style and bronze ware style, the left side was a child, and the bottom right was a string of silk cocoons or skein of threads. A thread is long and continuous, so it signified “continuity.” In ten style the right side became the kanji 系 “connection,” which had an additional stroke to the kanji 糸 “thread.”

History of Kanji 系(frame)The history of the kanji 系 is shown on the right side – It started as many strings of silk cocoons or skeins pulled together by a hand at the top. Holding many strings together signified “to unite; connect.” In ten style the hand got simplified to a single stroke, and a single skein of threads.

With the two kanji 子 and 系 together, they meant a child who was connected, that is “grandchild; off-spring.” The kun-yomi /mago’/ means “grandchild” and is in ひ孫 (“great-grandchild” /himago/)” and 孫娘 (“granddaughter” /magomu’sume/). The on-yomi /so’n/ is in 子孫 (“descendant” /shi’son/).

5. The kanji 孝 “filial duty”

History of Kanji 孝(frame)We have discussed the kanji 孝 along with the kanji 考 and 老 in the January 30, 2015, post. The common component among those kanji is called a bushu oigashira and meant “old; long time.” In the development of the kanji 孝, shown on the right, in all of the ancient style writings it had a long-haired old man stooping over at the top. Underneath that was a child. A child taking care of old parents meant “filial responsibility.” There is no kun-yomi for this kanji and the on-yomi /ko’o/ is used in a very limited way such as in 親孝行 (“filial duty; kind to one’s parents” ‘oyako’okoo/) and 忠孝 (“loyalty and filial responsibility” /chu’ukoo/).

6. The kanji 保 “to keep; maintain; protect”

History of Kanji 保The kanji 保 does not have 子 in the kanji, but in ancient writings it was unmistakably present. So, let us look at this kanji here too. The oracle bone style and the first bronze ware style samples were picture-like — an adult holding a baby in her arms. It originally meant “to care for an infant; protect.” Another bronze ware style writing sample on the right was from a later time (third century, A.D.), and it had a person on the left and an infant with a caring hand, or possibly a diaper, at the bottom right. In ten style, the right side was “a baby with diapers on.” So, from a person caring for a baby, it meant “to keep; maintain; protect.”

The kun-yomi 保つ /tamo’tsu/ means “to keep; maintain.” The on-yomi /ho/ is in 保険 (“insurance” /hoken/), 保母 (“nursery school teacher” /ho’bo/) and 保存する (“to preserve” /hozon-suru/). [Oh, did you just notice that 保存する contained 子 in 存?  子 in this case was just used phonetically to mean “to exist.”]

7.  The kanji 身 “body; person”

History of Kanji 身The kanji 身 was an image of a pregnant woman with a large belly who was viewed from the side. The fullness of a body was extended to mean “one’s body; own life; flesh.” The meaning of pregnancy was dropped. The kun-yomi 身 /mi/ means “body; person; one’s life,” and is in 身内 (“relatives; family” /miuchi/), 身軽な (“agile” /migaruna/), 身の上話 (“one’s life story” /minoueba’nashi/) and 身分 (“one’s social standing or status” /mi’bun/). The on-yomi /shi’n/ is in 自身 (“self; oneself” /ji’shin/) and 出身地 (“one’s hometown” /shusshi’nchi/).

8. The kanji 射 “to shoot”

History of Kanji 射The kanji 射 is comprised of two kanji, 身 and 寸. However, it has no relationship with 身 in meaning or sound, as the oracle bone and bronze ware style writings on the left demonstrate. In these two styles, it was an arrow on a bow being pulled by a hand. It meant “to shoot an arrow.” In ten style, the dilated shape of the bow was “mistakenly” taken as the same as the origin of 身. In kanji the original meaning of an arrow and a bow in oracle bone and bronze ware styles was kept, and it meant “to shoot.” The kun-yomi 射る /i’ru/ means “to shoot an arrow,” and is in 射止める (“to shoot; win; gain” /itome’ru/). The on-yomi /sha/ is in 発射する (“to fire; discharge” /hassha-suru/).

9. The kanji 謝 “to apologize; thankful”

History of Kanji 謝The kanji 謝 is the kanji 射 with a bushu gonben “words; language” added on the left. The bronze ware style writing was the same as 射. Here 射 was used phonetically to mean “to forgive.” Together with the additional meaning of “words,” they meant “to apologize; to be thankful.” The kun-yomi 謝る /ayama’ru/ means “to apologize,” and is in 平謝りに謝る (“to make a humble apology profusely” /hiraayamari-ni ayama’ru/). The on-yomi /sha/ is in 感謝する (“to be grateful; thank; appreciate” /ka’nsha-suru/), 月謝 (“monthly tuition” /gessha/), 謝罪 (“apology” /shazai) and 謝恩セール (“customer appreciation sale” /shaonse’eru/).

For the next post, I am thinking about the kanji 執熱熟塾芸 and 丸. Until I started to write the Key to Kanji, it had never occurred to me that the first five kanji had a “person.” [May 2, 2015]

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