In this post, we first look at kanji in which 糸 “thread” is placed at the bottom- 素索紫累-, and then kanji that has 系 “lineage,” which poriginally came from “a hand pulling a few skeins of threads together” -系綿孫遜係県懸.
The kanji 素 “raw materials; crude; natural”
In bronze ware style, in green, the center was a skein of raw silk threads with the top twisted tightly for dyeing, which was handled with two hands from the sides at the bottom. From “threads that were to be dyed” it meant “raw; materials.” In seal style, in red, the two hands were dropped but the tip of the threads remained more prominent, which became the top of the kanji 素. The kanji 素 meant “raw materials; crude; natural.”
There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /so/ is in 色素 (“pigment” /shiki’so/), 質素 (“simplicity; frugally” /shi’sso/), 酸素 (“oxygen” /sa’nso/) and 水素 (“hydrogen” /su’iso/). Another on-yomi /su/ is in 素顔 (“natural face; a face with no makeup” /su’gao/), 素性 (“birth; blood; one’s history” /sujoo/) and 素通りする (“to pass through; pass by” /sudoori-suru/).
The kanji 索 “to search”
The seal style writing was an apparatus to make a rope by twisting threads or other fibers. Twisting a rope started from the top. Pulling a rope signified searching for something. The kanji 索 meant “to search.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /saku/ is in 検索する(“to search for; look up” /kensaku-suru/), 探索 (“exploration” /tansaku/) and 索引 (“index” /sakuin/).
The kanji 紫 “purple”
In seal style the top 此 was used phonetically for /shi/, and the bottom 糸 was “thread.” It meant the color in which red and blue were mixed– “purple.” The kanji 紫 meant “purple.”
The kun-yomi 紫 /mura’saki/ means “purple.” The on-yomi /shi/ is in 紫外線 (“ultraviolet ray” /shigaisen/).
The kanji 累 “to connect; accumulate”
In seal style the top of 纍, three 田, was used phonetically for /rui/ to mean “to accumulate,” and the bottom was 糸 “thread.” Together they meant “to connect; heap up; put one on top of another.” In kanji the top became a single 田 and 糸. The kanji 累 meant “to connect; pile up.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /rui/ is in 係累 (“dependents; relatives and in-laws” /keerui/), 累計 (“the total; the aggregate” /ruikee/) and 累進課税 (“progressive taxation; graduated taxation” /ruishinka’zee/).
The kanji 系 “system; faction; family line; lineage”
In oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, a hand at the top was pulling three skeins of threads together. From “pulling things into one” the kanji 系 meant “system; faction; family line; lineage.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kee/ is in 系統 (“pedigree; line” /keetoo/), 家系図 (“family lineage chart; pedigree chart” /kake’ezu/), 文系 (“humanities; liberal arts” /bunkee/) and 系列 (“business grouping” /keeretsu/).
The kanji 綿 “cotton”
The kanji 綿 has 糸, a bushu itohen, rather than系, but if we look at the seal style writing it was 系, threads that were connected. In seal style the left side 帛 meant “silk cloth.” The right side was a skein of threads tied together. Together they originally meant “silk cloth.” Silk was produced in ancient times but was always expensive. Cotton is believed to have been introduced in China in the late first millennium or the turn of the second millennium. The correct kanji 緜 reflected seal style. When cotton gained popularity, the kanji 綿 came to mean “cotton.”
The kun-yomi 綿 /wata’/ means “cotton.” The on-yomi /men/ is in 木綿 (“cotton” /momen/), 綿羊 (“sheep” /men-yoo/), 綿棒 (“cotton swab” /me’nboo/) and 綿密な (“detailed” /menmitsu-na/).
The kanji 孫 “grandchild; offspring”
In oracle bone style and bronze ware style, the left side was a child, and the right bottom was a skein of threads. A thread is long and continuous. With a child together they meant “offspring; grandchild.” In seal style the right side became 系 “lineage.” The kanji 孫 meant “grandchild; offspring.”
The kun-yomi /mago’/ means “grandchild.” The on-yomi /son/ is in 子孫 (“descendants” /shi’son.)
The kanji 遜 “to humble oneself; condescend.”
In seal style the left side辵 meant “to go forward.” The center and the right side together, 孫, was used phonetically for /son/. It originally meant “to back off,” then was borrowed to mean “to humble oneself; condescend.”
There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /son/ is in 謙遜する (“to humble oneself” /kenson-suru/) and 遜色のない (“not inferior; to measure up” /sonshoku-no-na’i/).
The kanji 係 “a person in charge; relationship”
In seal style the left side イwas a person standing, and the right side was the kanji 系, “connection.” From “someone who was connecting matters,” it meant “a person in charge; relationship.”
The kun-yomi 係 /ka’kari/ means “a person in charge.” The on-yomi /kee/ is in 関係 (“relationship” /kankee/) and 係争 (“dispute” /keesoo/).
The kanji 県 “prefecture”
The origin of the kanji 県 is a gruesome one. In (a) and (b) in bronze ware style it was comprised of three elements: A tree and a rope to which a head was attached. It was the severed head of someone who was executed for a crime. The gruesome origin was dropped, and it meant “to hang down.” In seal style (c) the left side was a head upside done with the hair hanging, and the right side 系retained the original meaning of a rope attached to something, even though the tree was dropped. The kyuji (d 縣) reflected seal style, and in shinji, 系 was dropped. The authority that had the power to execute was a jurisdiction. The kanji 県 meant “prefecture.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ken/ is in 神奈川県 (“Kanagawa prefecture” /kanagawa’ken/) and 県庁 (“prefectural office” /ke’nchoo/).
The kanji 懸
No ancient writing is available. After the original meaning of 県, “to hang,” was taken to mean “prefecture,” a new kanji 懸 was created by adding 心 to 縣, which was also used phonetically for /ken/. The kanji 懸 meant “to attach; hang.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ken/ is in 懸垂 (“overhang; suspension” /kensui/), 懸賞 (“price competition” /kenshoo/), 懸命に (“hard; strenuously; assiduously” /kenmeeni/) and 懸案 (“pending issue” /ken-an/).
We will continue to explore kanji components that are related to thread, weaving, cloth, etc,. in the next several posts, if not more. Thank you very much for your reading. –Noriko [March 26, 2017]