The Kanji 糸糾約絵紀継絶絹紡—itohen “thread”

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With this post we are going to start kanji that is related to thread, binding, weaving, cloth, etc., in connection with 糸 “thread.” We will see that when 糸 is used as a component, it is rarely used for phonetic value but it adds the meaning that pertains to characteristics of thread, such as continuity and binding. The kanji this week are 糸糾約絵紀継絶絹紡.

  1. The kanji 糸 “thread”

History of Kanji 糸For the kanji 糸, (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (b) and (c), in bronze ware style, in green, had two or three silkworm cocoons strung together with filaments coming out at two ends. An alternative view is that it was a skein of raw silk threads.  It meant “thread.” The two round shapes in (d) in seal style, in red, became the shape that had two 糸side by side in (e) in kyuji, in blue. In shinji (f) it became a single skein of threads. The kanji 糸 meant “thread.”

The kun-yomi 糸 /i’to/ means “thread,” and is in 糸口 (“the end of a thread; clue” /ito’guchi), ミシン糸 (“sewing machine thread” /mishin-i’to/), 毛糸 (“yarn” /keeto/) and 生糸 (“raw silk” /ki’ito/). The on-yomi /shi/ is in the expression 一糸乱れず (“in perfect order” /i’sshi-midare’zu/).

  1. The kanji 糾 “to entwine; investigate; scrutinize”

History of Kanji 糾The seal style writing of the kanji 糾 had “thread” on the left. The right side was two ropes that were twisted or entwined, and was used phonetically for /kyuu/. Threads that were twisted or entwined also signified to lump things together or to make things right. The kanji 糾 meant “to twist something; entwine; investigate; scrutinize.”  When糸 is used as a bushu on the left side it is called a bushu itohen.

The kun-yomi 糾す /tadasu/ means “inspect; scrutinize.” The on-yomi /kyuu/ is in 紛糾 (“to become entangled; be thrown into confusion” /hunkyuu-suru/), 糾明する (“to examine closely” /kyuumee-suru/) and 糾弾する (“to denounce” /kyuudan-suru/).

  1. The kanji 約 “promise; abridge”

History of Kanji 約The seal style writing of the kanji 約 is comprised of 糸 “thread” and 勺 “ladle scooping up something,” which was used phonetically for /shaku; yaku/. Together binding with threads what was raised meant “to promise.” Binding things in a bundle also gave the meaning to shorten or cut back. The kanji 約meant “to promise; shorten; cut back.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /yaku/ is in 約束 (“promise” /yakusoku/), 予約 (“reservation” /yoyaku/), 条約 (“treaty” /jooyaku/), 要約 (“summary” /yooyaku/) and 節約する (“to cut down; curtail” /setsuyaku-suru).

  1. The kanji 絵 “painting; picture”

History of Kanji 絵The seal style writing of the kanji絵 had 糸 “thread” and 會 “steamer with a lid.” A lid meets the steamer tightly, thus meant “to meet,” and it was also used phonetically for /kai/. Both sides together pulling threads of various color together originally signified brocade or embroidered cloth. Later it came to be used to mean “painting.” The kyuji 繪, which reflected seal style, was simplified to 絵, just as the kanji會 was replaced by 会 in shinji. The kanji 絵 meant “painting; picture.”

The kun-yomi 絵 /e/ means “picture; painting,” and is in 浮世絵 (“ukiyoe print” /ukiyo‘e/) and 絵文字 (“emoticon; emoji” /emoji/), a new word that seems to have been accepted in electronics communication nowadays.  The on-yomi /kai/ is in 絵画 (“painting; picture” /ka’iga/).

  1. The kanji 紀 “beginning; to chronicle”

History of Kanji 紀己, the bronze ware style writing for the kanji 紀, was phonetically /ki/, and has been given various interpretations — a tool used for spinning threads; a crooked end of a thread or rope; a motion in which a person in a crouched position was about to get up, etc. In seal style 糸 “thread” was added on the left to clarify the meaning. Gathering threads into one signified a beginning of a long-lasting event – thus, “to begin.” Making a chronicle of events was like gathering different lines of events into one – thus, “to chronicle.” The kanji 紀 meant “to begin; chronicle.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ki/ is in 紀元 (“starting point of years” /ki’gen/), 紀元前 (“before Christ; before common era” /kige’nzen/), 世紀 (“century” /se’eki/) and 風紀 (“public moral” /hu’uki/).

  1. The kanji 継 “to succeed; inherit: continue”

History of Kanji 継For the kanji 継, the bronze ware style writing had a pair of skeins of threads on two separate levels with a line in-between. That line signified that the threads were cut short (幺). In seal style another thread 糸 was added on the left, and together they signified “a thread (on the left) connecting the threads that are cut.” The four 幺 in kyuji was replaced by 米 in shinji.  The kanji 継 meant “to succeed; inherit: continue.”

The kun-yomi 継ぐ /tsugu/ means “to succeed; inherit,” and is in 受け継ぐ (“to follow; inherit” /uketsugu/) and 引き継ぎ (“taking over; transfer of (control)” /hikitsugi/). The on-yomi /kee/ is in 継続する (“to continue” /keezoku-suru/) and テレビ中継 (“television broadcast” /terebichu’ukee/).

  1. The kanji 絶 “to cut; die out”

History of Kanji 絶RThe bronze ware style writing of the kanji 絶 was similar to 継 in 6– a pair of skeins of threads on two shelves to mean “short thread” The Old style, in purple, was the same as the right side of the kanji 継, except that it was a flip-side. In seal style the right side (色) was added and used phonetically for /zee; zetsu/. The top of 色 had a knife (刀). Together they meant “to cut; die out.”

The kun-yomi 絶える /tae’ru/ means “to die out,” and is in 絶え間なく (“constantly; perpetually; endlessly” /taemana’ku/).  The on-yomi /ze’tsu/ is in 絶滅 (“extinction; eradication” /zetsumetsu/), 断絶 (“severance; extinction” /danzetsu/), and /zet-/ is in 絶対に(“absolutely” /zettai-ni/).

History of Kanji 断The combination of “four skeins of short threads” and “knife” reminds us of another kanji 断 in the earlier discussion. [December 6, 2016]  The kanji 断 in seal style had a hand axe (斤), a more powerful sharp object- thus, the kanji 断 meant “to cut drastically.”

  1. The kanji 絹 “silk”

History of Kanji 絹The writing in light color (time unknown) and seal style writing had 糸 on the left, and the right side was used phonetically for /ken/. The top of the right side was generally viewed as a round silkworm. The kanji 絹 meant “silk.”

The kun-yomi 絹 /ki’nu/ means “silk” and is in 絹豆腐 (“tofu of fine texture” /kinudo’ohu/).  The on-yomi /ken/ is in 人絹 (“imitation silk; rayon” /jinken/), a word somewhat outdated because レーヨン is used.

  1. The kanji 紡 “to spin”

History of Kanji 紡The seal style of the kanji 紡 had 糸 “skein of thread” and 方 for a phonetic /hoo; boo/.  The kanji 紡 meant “to spin.”

The kun-yomi /tsumugu/ means “to spin.” The on-yomi /boo/ is in 紡績業 “the spinning and weaving industry; textile manufacturing” /booseki’gyoo/) and 紡織機 (“spinning and weaving machine; spindles and looms” /booshoku’ki; boosho’kkuki/.)

We are going to continue with the kanji that have a bushu itohen in the next post.  Thank you very much for your reading.  – Noriko [March 12, 2017]

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