The Kanji 木休本体末抹朱株—”tree” (1)


We are going to explore the origin of kanji that were related to living things in nature, starting with a standing tree, 木. In some kanji the shape 木 was used as a bushu kihen, keeping the shape unchanged. In some kanji a new shape was created in ancient times by adding a bulge or dot to a standing tree. In this post, after we look at the kanji 木 and 休, we are going to look at those kanji that had different meanings by having a bulge at different positions on a single writing — a bulge at the bottom 本体; a bulge at the top 末抹; and a bulge in the center 朱株.

  1. The kanji 木 “tree; wood; wooden”

History of Kanji 木For the kanji 木 in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style, in red, it was a standing tree with big limbs stretching out upwards and downwards. When a tree is cut down it becomes wood. The kanji 木 meant “tree; wood; wooden.”

The kun-yomi 木 /ki’/ means “tree,” and is in 植木 (“garden tree” /ueki/). Another kun-yomi /ko/ is in 木立 (“a cluster of trees; grove” /ko’dachi/) and 木の葉 (“leaf” /ko’noha/ or /ki’noha/). The on-yomi /bo’ku/ is in 大木 (“big tree” /taiboku/). Another on-yomi /mo’ku/ is in 木曜日 (“Thursday” /mokuyo’obi/).

  1. The kanji 休 “rest; holiday; closed”

History of Kanji 休The most prevalent view of the origin of the kanji 休 is “a person leaning against a tree resting.” From that the kanji 休meant “to rest.” This explanation sounds convincing to us when we look at the kanji. However, this time when I was making a copy of ancient writings samples, the slightly bent top of the tree in the two bronze ware style writings, (c) and (d), puzzled me a little. It looked similar to 禾. Shirakawa offered an explanation for this. He said that the right side was not 木 but 禾. 禾 was explained as a sign placed on the gate of a military installation where a cease-fire ceremony was held (related to the kanji 和 “peace; harmony”). From this the writing 休 meant to conduct a peace-keeping negotiation at this gate. We will explore the meaning of 禾 when we look at a bushu nogihen later on.

The kun-yomi 休む /yasu’mu/ means “to rest; absent from work/school,” and is in 昼休み (“lunch break” /hiruya’sumi/), 一休み (“short break” /hito’yasumi/), 夏休み (“summer vacation” /natsuya’sumi/). The on-yomi /kyu’u/ is in 休憩 (“break” /kyuukee/), 休息 (“relaxation; respite” /kyuusoku/) and 運休 (“suspension of transportation service” /unkyuu/).

A “bulge” at three different locations on 木 “tree”

A bulge on a line in ancient writing is called 肥点 /hiten/. A hiten placed an emphasis on a particular part of writing and drew the viewer’s attention. It generally developed into a full line. We have a perfect set of three different uses of hiten on a single shape. Let us look at the role that a hiten played in oracle bone style and/or bronze ware style writings to differentiate the meanings.

  1. The kanji 本 “book; origin; base; true; serious”

History of Kanji 本For the kanji 本, in bronze ware style, the bottom or base of a tree trunk had a small bulge. That indicated that this writing was about the “base of a tree” or a basis of something that grew and branched out. A basis never changes, so it remains true. From that the kanji 本 meant “origin; base; true; serious.” In ten style, the bulge became a short horizontal line. It was also used to mean “book,” and as a counter for a long slender object.

The kun-yomi 本 /mo’to/ means “base; origin.” The on-yomi本 /ho’n/ means “book.” It is also in 本当の (“true” /hontoo-no/), 本気 (“serious; earnest” /honki/), 本州 (“main island; Honshu Island” /ho’nshuu/), 本人 (“person in question” /ho’nnin/). /Pon/ is in 一本 (“one long object” /i’ppon/), and /bo’n/ is in 三本 (“three long objects” /sa’nbon/).

  1. The kanji 体 “body; entity; style”

History of Kanji 体The shinjitai kanji 体 has the totally different kyujitai 體, in blue, which came from ten style. In ten style, it consisted of 骨 “bone” on the left, which had “vertebrae” at the top and 月 “flesh” at the bottom. The right side 豊 was used phonetically for /ho’o/ to mean “all.” Together they meant an entity with full bones and flesh, that was “body; entity.” It also meant “style.” The shinjitai consisted of イ, a bushu ninben, and 本 “base.” It is hard to connect 體 and 体 as belonging to the same writing, but 体 is believed to have been used as an informal writing for several centuries.

The kun-yomi 体 /karada/ means “body.” The on-yomi /tai/ is in 体重 (“one’s body weight” /taijuu/), 体積 (“volume; cubic volume” /ta’iseki/), 本体 (“main body; true form” /ho’ntai/), 一体化 (“unification; combining into a single unit” /ittaika/), 自治体 (“local government” /jichitai/). The other on-yomi /te’e/ is in 体裁 (“outward appearance” /teesai/), as in the expression 体裁が悪い (“not fit to be seen; in a bad form” /teesai-ga-waru’i/), and 有り体に言うと (“to put it crudely/bluntly” /aritee-ni-iu-to/).

  1. The kanji 末 “end; close”

History of Kanji 末The next kanji is the example of having a bulge at the top of a tree. For the kanji 末 in the bronze ware style writing we see a short line crossing the tip of a tree. It meant the “end” of a tree. In ten style, it became a very long line, which is reflected in kanji. In writing the kanji 末, the first stroke has to be longer than the second stroke. The kanji 末 meant “end.”

The kun-yomi 末 /sue/ means “end,” and is in 末永く (“everlastingly; for ever” /suena’gaku/). The on-yomi /ma’tsu/ means 月末 (“end of a month” /getsumatsu/), 始末する (“to deal with; put in order” /shi’matsu-suru/) and 結末 (“conclusion; result” /ketsumatsu/).

  1. The kanji 抹 “powder; to erase”

There is no ancient writing available for the kanji 抹. The left side is a bushu tehen “hand.” The right side 末had the meaning “powder,” and was also used phonetically to mean “to paint over.” Together “to paint over by hand” meant “to erase.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ma’tsu/ is in 抹茶 (“a quality powder green tea” /maccha/), 抹消する (“to erase” /masshoo-suru/) and 一抹の不安 (“a tinge of worry” /itchi’matsu-no huan/).

  1. The kanji 朱 “red; vermillion”

History of Kanji 朱When the bulge was placed at the center of a tree, it developed into the kanji 朱. (a) in oracle bone style and (c) in bronze ware style had a bulge at the center of a tree trunk. What the bulge at this location meant is not very clear. But 朱 meant “red.” The most prevalent explanation for the connection between the shape and the meaning “red” is that when you cut a fresh trunk, the color of the center of a trunk is reddish. In ten style, the extra line stayed in the middle. In kanji a short slash was added as the first stroke. Where did this come from? I was not able to find any reference on this, but something similar had happened in the kanji 先, as we have touched upon in an earlier post. History of Kanji 先(frame)[Hands and Legs- Bushu にんにょう – (2) 先洗育充統 on August 30, 2014.] The history of the kanji 先 is shown on the right. In the kanji 先, the top came from a footprint. A slash, which was not present in ten style, was added in kanji at the tip of a foot to emphasize the meaning of the kanji “ahead of.” So, what happened in the kanji 朱 seems to be similar to 先. Adding a slash is another device to focus on the meaning. The kanji 朱 means “(orange) red; vermilion.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shu/ is in 朱色 (“(orange) red” /shuiro/), 朱肉 (“vermilion inkpad” /shuniku/). The expression 朱に交われば赤くなる (/shu’-ni majiwa’reba akakuna’ru/) means “a bad company makes you bad.”

  1. The kanji 株 “stump; share”

History of Kanji 株In ten style, the left side was “tree,” and the right side was used phonetically to mean “bright red.” The color of a freshly cut trunk is red or reddish. Together they meant “tree stump; stub.” It is also used for “share; stock,” as in shares of a corporation.

The kun-yomi /kabu/ means “stock; share; stump,” and is in 切り株 (“tree stump” /kirikabu/), 株式会社 (“corporation; Ltd.; Inc.” /kabushikiga’isha/), 株主 (“shareholder” /kabu’nushi/). The word お株 (“someone’s unique talent; specialty” /okabu/) is in the expression お株を取られる (“to be outdone by another person for the same talent” /okabu-o torare’ru/).

Until I put these kanji together for this post, I did not realize that there was a three-way contrast of using a hiten on a single writing of 木 “tree.” Once again I am very impressed by the ingenuity in kanji formation that creators of Chinese ancient writers had. I expect that we will have a few more postings on kanji that originated in a tree, including a group of kanji that contain 未, which we will explore in the next post. [July 10, 2016]

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