The Kanji 刀切窃初分雰紛契喫潔- 刀 “sword; knife; to cut”


To begin our exploration on kanji that originated from weapons, we are going to look at shapes that came from an edged object. The first of this series is on the shape 刀, katana “sword; knife” this week – 刀切窃初分雰紛契喫潔.

  1. The kanji 刀 “knife; sword”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%80For the kanji 刀, in oracle bone style, in brown, it was a shape of a sword. In ten style the slightly curved handle in oracle bone style was bent backward sharply, and that became the kanji shape 刀. The kanji 刀 meant “sword; knife.”

The kun-yomi /katana’; kata’na/ means “sword,” and is in 小刀 (“pocketknife” /koga’tana/). The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 刀剣 (“sword” /tooken/), 日本刀 (“Japanese sword” /nihontoo/), 二刀流 (“a fighting style using two swords” /nitooryuu/) and in a phrase 一刀両断 (“cutting decisively in two with a single stroke of a sword” /itto’o ryoodan/).

  1. The kanji 切 “to cut; all; earnest”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%87For the kanji 切, in ten style the left side of (b) had a small contour signifying a cut in the middle, and it was used phonetically for /setsu/ to mean “to cut.” The right side 刀 added the meaning of “to cut.” Together they meant “to cut.” When there is nothing left as if it were a cut off, it meant “all.” When one faces a sharp knife one has to be serious, and from that it also meant “precious; earnest.”

The kun-yomi /ki’ru/ means “to cut,” and is in 切手 (“postal stamp” /kitte/). When it is attached to a verb stem, such as 食べきる (“to eat them all” /tabeki’ru/) it means “doing completely.” (切る is usually written in hiragana as an auxiliary verb.) The on-yomi /se’tsu/ is in 切実な (“acute; earnest” /setsujitsu-na/) and 親切な (“kind” /shi’nsetsu-na/). Another on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 一切 (“all; everything” /i’ssai/).

  1. The kanji 窃 “steal secretly”

history-of-kanji-%e7%aa%83The kanji 窃 means “to steal secretly.” It is not an every-day kanji. When do we see it? It is in more specialized words such as 窃盗犯 (“thief of personal property” /setto’ohan/) and 剽窃 (“plagiarism; piracy” /hyoosetsu/). The latter word has come up quite often as an illegal or dishonest act in scholarly work, art, copying of other people’s work including from the Internet, has come more and more to the attention of people and government. In this regard, I find the ten style writing of the kanji 窃 interesting. The top was a house, signifying a granary, and a hole. The bottom left was “rice,” and the bottom right was small bugs in a lump. The four elements (house; hole; rice; and bugs) worked together like this — inside a rice granary bugs burrowed and ate the grains, leaving empty hull while the owner was not aware of what was happening.  From that 窃 meant “to steal away secretly.” What is left for the owner is just empty hulls.

  1. The kanji 初 “first time; beginning”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%9dFor the kanji 初, in oracle bone style, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style the left side was the shape of a “collar,” its front and back, and the right side was a “knife.” In order to make clothes, fabric has to be cut first. From that the kanji 初 meant “first time; beginning.” In kanji the collar became a bushu koromohen, which looked like a katakana /ne/ with an extra stroke attached. (We will look at a group of kanji that have a koromohen later on.)

The kun-yomi 初めて /haji’mete/ means “for the first time.” The second kun-yomi /u-/ is in 初々しい (“innocent; pure; fresh” /uiuishi’i/) and 初な (“naïve; green” /u’buna/). The third kun-yomi /ha’tsu/ is in 初物 (“the first of the season” /hatsumono/) and 初恋(“first love” /hatsukoi/). The on-yomi /sho/ is in 最初 (“in the beginning” /saisho/), 初夏 (“early summer” /sho’ka/) and 初期 (“beginning” /sho’ki/).

  1. The kanji 分 “to divide; understand; social status; minute”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%86In the kanji 分, in each of the three ancient writing styles a sword or knife was placed in the middle of something that was cut in half (ハ). It meant “to divide; portion.” This kanji included many related meanings. From the meaning of “one’s own portion,” it meant “one’s social status.” Dividing an hour makes “minutes.” When something is explained in a clear-cut manner, it is easy to understand, thus it meant “to understand.”

The kun-yomi /wa/ is in 分ける (“to divide” /wake’ru/) and its intransitive verb counterpart 分かれる (“to branch off; separate” /wakare’ru/). It is also in 仕分ける “to classify; sort out” /siwake’ru/) and 分かる (“to understand” /waka’ru/). The on-yomi /bu’n/ is in 分数 (“division” /bunsu’u/), 身分 (“social status” /mi’bun/). The two different pronunciations of 分 (/bun/ and /hun/) are used two totally different meanings in the word 分別—分別 /bunbetsu/ means “division; separation,” as in ゴミの分別 (“sorting out different types of trash (for recicling)” /gomi-no-bunbetsu/), and /hu’nbetsu/ means “prudence; wisdom.” It is almost comical to think about going through the chore of sorting trash for a trash collection while thinking about the other meaning “prudence.” Japanese cities require residents strict adherence to ゴミの分別.

  1. The kanji 雰 “atmosphere”

history-of-kanji-%e9%9b%b0Less than a month ago we looked at the kanji 粉 “flower” in connection with komehen “rice.” 米 and 分 together meant that rice was pulverized into powder. The kanji 雰 had 分 at the bottom of a bushu amekanmuri “rain; atmospheric”. Together pulverized drops of water in the air meant something pervading in the air. From that it meant “atmosphere.” The use of this kanji is limited to 雰囲気 (“atmosphere” /huni’ki/), but the word itself is often used.

  1. The kanji 紛 (“to become confused; become lost”

history-of-kanji-%e7%b4%9bFor the kanji 紛 the left side in ten style was a skein of thread. When a skein of threads comes apart, it becomes tangled up. From that the kanji 紛 means “to become confused; become lost.” It also included turmoil.

The kun-yomi 紛らわしい /magirawashi’i/ means “deceptive; confusing” and is in 気が紛れる (“one’s mind becomes diverted from concern/boredom” /ki-ga-magire’ru/). The on-yomi /hu’n/ is in 紛糾する (“to become embroiled” /hunkyuu-suru/), 紛争 (“dispute; conflict” /hunsoo/), 内紛 (“internal dispute” /naihun/) and 紛失する (“to lose” /hunshitsu-suru/).

The next three kanji 契喫潔 share the same component, even though the shared component was used phonetically in 喫 and 潔.

  1. The kanji 契 “to pledge; contract”

history-of-kanji-%e5%a5%91In the ten style writing of the kanji 契, the top left had a vertical line with three short lines intersecting, and the top right had a knife. It signified one making notches on a piece of wood with a knife. This was cut in half as a tally to match later on. The bottom was a “person.” Together people make a pledge or “contract.” The kanji 契 means “contract.”

The kun-yomi 契りを結ぶ /chigiri’o musubu/ means “to make a pledge; exchange a marriage vow.” The on-yomi /kee/ is in 契約 (“contract” /keeyaku/) and 契機 (“momentum” /ke’eki/).

  1. The kanji 喫 “to chew; eat; drink; smoke”

history-of-kanji-%e5%96%abFor the kanji 喫, a mouth (口) was added to 契, which was used phonetically to mean “to chew.” Together they meant an act in which one put something in the mouth, such as “to chew; eat; drink; smoke.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kitsu/ is in 喫茶店 (“café; tea house” /kissaten/), 喫煙所 (“smoking area” /kitsuenjo/) and 満喫する (“to eat and drink plentifully” /mankitsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 潔 “pure; clean; bravely graceful”

history-of-kanji-%e6%bd%94For the kanji 潔, in ten style the left side was “water.” The bottom right had skein of threads, but it was used phonetically for /ke’tsu/ to mean “to purify.” Together they signified “to purify with water.” The meaning of “pure; clean” was also used to describe the manner in which one acted, “brave; graceful; manly.”

The kun-yomi 潔い /isagiyo’i/ means “brave; manly,” as i n (過ちを)潔く認める (“to readily admit one’s fault” /(ayama’chi-o) isagiyo’ku mitomeru/). The on-yomi /ke’tsu/ is in 清潔な (“clean; immaculate” /seeketsu-na/), 不潔な (“huketsu-na” /unsanitary/) and 潔白な (“innocent; guiltless” /keppaku-na/).

In the next post, we continue to look at kanji related to “knife,” including another bushu called risshinben. Thank you for your reading. – Noriko [October 23, 2016]

The Kanji 垂睡郵・不否杯倍培陪剖部—垂 and 不 


In this last post on kanji that originated from a plant we are going to explore two groups: 垂睡郵 from “leaves drooping down to the ground” (垂) and 不否杯倍培陪剖部 from “calyx of a flower” (不).

  1. The kanji 垂 “to hang down; dangle; vertical”

history-of-kanji-%e5%9e%82For the kanji 垂 in ten style, in red, the top was leaves or branches hanging down low, which by itself signified “to droop.” The bottom was 土 “ground,” adding the sense that hanging leaves touched the ground. Together they meant “to hang down; dangle; droop.” Something that was hanging down also meant “vertical; at a right angle.” (In kyujitai, in blue, the top was similar to the non-joyo kanji 乖 /ka’i/, as in 乖離 “estrangement; separation.”I suspect that it came from a different origin and just happened to use the shape.)

The kun-yomi /tare’ru/ means “to hang down; droop,” and is in 垂れ幕 “hanging banner; curtain” and 雨垂れ (“rain dripping from eaves”/amadare/). The on-yomi /su’i/ is in 垂直 (“vertical; at right angle” /suichoku/), 懸垂 (“suspension; ‘pull-up’ in the horizontal bar” /kensui/) and 胃下垂 (“gasrtic ptosis” /ika’sui/).

  1. The kanji 郵 “post; postal service”

history-of-kanji-%e9%83%b5In ten style of the kanji 郵, 垂 on the left meant “frontier; outlying district” from something that stretched away from the center. The right side had an “area” and a “person,” signifying “village,” which is our familia bushu oozato. A village along the roads leading to an outlying area had a post station where messengers pass through. From that it meant “post; postal service.” (This kanji was in The Kanji 都者郡君群部郵郷–おおざと on November 8, 2015)

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /yu’u/ is in 郵便 (“postal service; post; mail” /yuubin/) and 郵送する (“to send by postal service” /yuusoo-suru/).

  1. The kanji 睡 ”to sleep”

history-of-kanji-%e7%9d%a1In ten style of the kanji 睡, 目 “eye” was added to 垂 “to droop,” which was also used phonetically for /su’i/. Eyelids drooping meant “to sleep.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /su’i/ is in 睡眠 (“sleep” /suimin/), 熟睡する (“to sleep soundly; fall into a deep sleep” /jukusui-suru/) and 睡魔におそわれる (“to get overcome by drowsiness” /su’ima-ni osowareru/).

The next group of kanji comes from a calyx of a flower. A calyx in Japanese is 花の萼 /ga’ku; gaku’/. It became the kanji 不.

  1. The kanji 不 “negation; not”

history-of-kanji-%e4%b8%8dIn oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style, it was a pictograph of a calyx of a flower – the top was an enclosed fruit or seed and the bottom was a leaf-like support, usually green. The shape was borrowed to mean “negation; not ~.” 不 is used as prefix to signify “negation; not.”

The kun-yomi is /zu/ but is rarely used. Words that have the on-yomi /hu; bu/ are numerous. They often have an counterpart to which 不 gives the meaning “not.” 不安定な (“unstable” /hur’antee-na/) and 安定 (“stable” /antee/), 不利な (“disadvantageous” /hu’ri-na/) and 有利な (“advantageous” /yu’uri-na/), 不便な (“inconvenient” /hu’ben-na/) and 便利な (“be’nri-na” /convenient?), and 不可能 (“impossible” /huka’noo-na/) and 可能な (“possible; able” /kanoo-na/).

  1. The kanji 否 “to deny”

history-of-kanji-%e5%90%a6In ten style of the kanji 否, what we see in ten style of 不 had 口 “mouth” or “speaking.” Together they meant “to deny.”

The kun-yomi 否む /ina’mu/ means “to deny,” used in writing. The on-yomi /hi/ is in 否定 (“negation” /hitee/), 否決する (“to vote down” /hiketsu-suru/) and /-pi/ is in 安否を問う (“to inquire about the safety of someone” /a’npi-o to’u/).

  1. The kanji 杯 “wine cup; cupful”

history-of-kanji-%e6%9d%afFor the kanji 杯 in ten style 木 “tree/wood” was added to 不 “calyx.” Together they signified a calyx-shape wine cup made of wood. From that it meant “wine cup; cupful of.” It is also used as a counter for “cupful.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ha/ is in 祝杯 (“celebratory drink” /shukuhai/), and /-pai/ is in 乾杯 (“bottom-up; cheers” /kanpai/). As a counter, the consonant has the usual variations of /ha; pu; ba/ that a beginning student goes through memorizing–一杯 /i’ppai/, 二杯 /ni’hai/, 三杯 /sa’nbai/, 四杯 /yo’nhai/ 五杯 /gohai/ and so on.

In the next five kanji, 倍培陪剖部, the ten style shape that we saw in 否 were seen in their ten style, but they became a different shape, 咅, in kanji.

  1. The kanji 倍 “to become doubled; double”

history-of-kanji-%e5%80%8dFor the kanji 倍 in ten style, a bushu ninben “person” was added to the left. The right side meant a ripe fruit or seed that was about to split. 咅 was used phonetically for /bu/ tmeaning “to divide.” Together they signified two people splitting something. From that it meant “to become doubled; double.” For sample words please see the earlier post. For word samples, please refer to the earlier post.

  1. The kanji 培 “culture; to cultivate”

history-of-kanji-%e5%9f%b9The kanji 培 had a bushu tsuchihen “soil; dirt’ ground.” A mature calyx swelled and signified something “swelling; bulging.” Together they meant a hilly land or raised ground. When you grow a plant you add soil around it. The kanji 培 means “to cultivate.”

The kun-yomi /tsuchika’u/ means “ to cultivate; nurture. The on-yomi /ba’i/ is 栽培する “to grow” and 培養 “culture.”

  1. The kanji 陪 “to accompany”

history-of-kanji-%e9%99%aaThe kanji 陪 had a bushu kozatohen “pile of dirt.” The right side 咅 was used phonetically.It means “to attend; accompany” in an official capacity. The connection with “officially” is explained in Shirakawa as coming from a kozatohen as a ladder for the god.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /bai/ is in 陪審員 (“juror” /baishi’n-in/), 陪食する (“to have a meal accompanying someone superior” /baishoku-suru/) –not a useful word for us–,  and 陪席 (“sitting with a superior” /baiseki/). For us “sitting in a company of someone” would be 同席する /dooseki-suru/.

  1. The kanji 剖 “to divide; cut”

history-of-kanji-%e5%89%96The kanji 剖 had a bushu rittoo “knife” on the right side. On the left the top part of a matured calyx would split. Together they meant “to divide; cut.” There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /bo’o/ is in 解剖する (“to dissect” /kaiboo-suru/).

  1. The kanji 部 “part”

history-of-kanji-%e9%83%a8If you only look at the kanji 部 and 陪, they look as if the components were just swiched. However, as we already know from the earlier posts, the bushu kosatohen and oozato had entirely different origins. This pair would be a good reminder for us about different origins. For the kanji 部 in ten style the right side was “village.” The left side 咅, meaning “splitting into two,” and the right side “village” meant “a part of a village or other entirety.” The kanji 部 meant “to divide a village into parts.” From that it meant “part; portion” of a whole or “department; section” of a larger organization. For word samples please refer to the earlier post. (The Kanji 都者郡君群部郵郷–おおざとon November 8, 2015)

We have looked at eight kanji 不否杯倍培陪剖部 that originated from 不. Kanji shapes developed differently even though their ten style writings had the same shape. Even though the original image of calyx was primarily used phonetically we could also see a part of a plant hidden in the origin of the meaning of 不. I hope some readers find this connection interesting. My next posting will be in two weeks. Thank you very much for your interest. –Noriko [October 9, 2016]

The Kanji 由油宙笛袖抽軸-由


In this post we are going to look at kanji 由油宙笛袖抽軸, which originated from an overripe gourd (由), with its flesh inside or without. As a component it meant “oil; empty; hollow.” 由 is not a bushu in the traditional kanji dictionary.

  1. The kanji 由 “to originate from; cause; reason”

history-of-kanji-%e7%94%b1Kanji scholars seem to agree that the precursor of the kanji 由 was (c), shown on the left. (The old kanji (c) is not available on MS Word.) The kanji (c) /yu’u/, (a) in oracle bone style and (b) in bronze ware style had a gourd with a top. Inside an overripe gourd the fruit liquefied and dripped out, and the gourd became empty. It was used as a rice wine container. From “inside contents coming out” it meant “to originate from; cause; reason.”

The kun-yomi 由 /yo’shi/ is in ご旅行中の由 (“I hear you are away on a trip” /goryokoochuu-no-yo’shi/) in a polite letter. Another kun-yomi 由る /yo-ru/ means “to originate from; due to. The on-yomi /yu’u/ is in 理由 (“reason; ground” /riyuu), 自由 (“liberty; freedom” /jiyu’u/), 由来 (“derivation; origin” /yurai/), as inひらがなの由来 (“how hiragana came about” /hiraga’na-no yurai/), and 由緒正しい (“having a noble origin” /yu’isho tadashi’i/).

  1. The kanji 油 “oil”

history-of-kanji-%e6%b2%b9For the kanji 油 the ten style writing had a bushu sanzui “water; liquid” on the left. Liquefied flesh in an overripe gourd was oily. Together they meant “oil.”

The kun-yomi 油 /abura/ means “oil,” and is in 油が切れる (“to run out of oil” /abura-ga-kire’ru/) and 油絵 (“oil painting” /abura’e/). The on-yomi /yu/ is in 石油 (“petroleum” /sekiyu/), 灯油 (“kerosene” /tooyu/), 原油 (“crude oil” /genyu/), and 油田 (“oil field” /yuden/). It is also in 油断する (“to be off one’s guard” /yudan-suru/), in which 断 means “to cut off.”

  1. The kanji 宙 “space; sky”

history-of-kanji-%e5%ae%99(The kanji 宙 was discussed once earlier in connection with a bushu ukanmuri “house.”) In oracle bone style, in the middle was an empty gourd after its ripe flesh drained out signifying “emptiness.” Over that was a big canopy that covers the land, which is the sky. A large empty space under the sky meant “space; sky.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /chu’u/ is in 宇宙 (“space” /u’chuu/), 宙吊り (“hanging in the air” /chuuzuri/), 宙返り (“somersault” /chuuga’eri/), 宙に浮く (“to float in the air” /chu’u-ni uku/), 宇宙開発 (“space development” /uchuuka’ihatsu/) and宇宙人 (“space alien; spaceman” /uchu’ujin/).

  1. The kanji 笛 “flute”

history-of-kanji-%e7%ac%9bFor the kanji 笛 the ten style writing had a takekanmuri “bamboo” above 由. Bamboo is hollow inside like an empty gourd. Holes in the bamboo made it a “flute.”

The kun-yomi /hue/ means “flute,” and is in the phrase 笛吹けど踊らず “No one would follow a lead” from no one dances to the tune of a flute played. /huehu’kedo odorazu/.) /–Bue/ is in 口笛 (“whistle” /kutibue/). The on-yomi /te’ki/ is in 警笛 (“alarm whistle; horn; siren” /keeteki/), 汽笛 (“steam whistle” /kiteki/) and 鼓笛隊 (“fife and drum band” /kotekitai/).

  1. The kanji 袖 “sleeve”

history-of-kanji-%e8%a2%96For the kanji 袖 Setsumon gave (a) as the authentic style and (b) as a popular style. In (a) the collar was split into two, the top being the back of the neck and the bottom afront in which two sides meet. No account is given as to what the inside was about in references. In (b) the left side was a collar, which signified “clothes.” Together with 由 they meant the part of clothing from which an arm comes out, which is a “sleeve.” The left side of the ten style writing became the kanji 衣 /koromo/, and when 衣 was placed on the left side it became a bushu koromohen.

The kun-yomi /sode/ means “sleeve,” and is in 長袖 (“long sleeves” /nagasode/), 半袖 (“short-sleeve” /hansode/) and 七分袖 (“three-quarter sleeves” /shichibu’sode/). It is in the expression 無い袖は振れない (“I cannot give what I do not have,” usually about money /na’isode-wa hurenai/).

  1. The kanji 抽 “to draw out; pull”

history-of-kanji-%e6%8a%bdFor the kanji 抽 three writings in ten style were given in Shirakawa (2004). (a) had a “hand” and 由, and it signified “a hand drawing out something.” In (b) the right side was 留 “reservoir,” such as a wine cask. In (c) the right side had a mature rice plant. A hand pulling contents out of a ripe gourd meant “to pull; draw out.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /chu’u/ is in 抽出する (“to extract” /chuushutsu-suru/), 抽象的な (“abstract” /chuushooteki-na/) and 抽選 (“lottery; drawing” /chuusen/).

  1. The kanji 軸 “axle; shaft; scroll”

history-of-kanji-%e8%bb%b8For the kanji 軸 in ten style, the left side was a wheel. Something sticking out connecting wheels was an axle or shaft. The kanji 軸 meant “axle; shaft.” A hanging scroll is stored rolled up, which looks like a stick, and from that it also meant “scroll.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ji’ku/ is in 車軸 (“axle” /shajiku/), 回転軸 (“revolving shaft; rotation axis” /kaite’njiku/), 基軸 (”key” /kijiku/), 枢軸国 (“axis power” /suujikukoku/), and 掛け軸 (“hanging scroll” /kake’jiku/)

I expect that we need one more posting to finish off our exploration of kanji that came from plants before we move onto the topic of things and objects. Thank you for your interest. Noriko [October 2, 2016]