In this post we are going to look at kanji that contain幺 “skein of threads”–幼玄畜蓄幽率滋慈磁. The history of 幺 is shown on the right. Then we will look at the four kanji that contain 屯 “threads knotted”– 屯純頓鈍.
The kanji 幼 “very young; immature”
For the kanji 幼 in oracle bone style, in brown, it was a skein of threads with a long stick that was used to twist the threads. Shirakawa wrote that it was the original shape for the kanji 拗 “to twist” (a non-Joyo kanji), and was borrowed to mean “very young; immature.” On the other hand Setsumon 2000 years ago explained the origin to be 幺 and 力. Oracle bones were first entered into scholarly discussion at the very end of the 19th century so Setsumon’s account naturally did not take oracle bone writing into consideration. Nonetheless Setsumon’s account still influences many kanji dictionaries today. For instance, the Kadokawa dictionary and Kanjigen followed Setsumon’s account — with 幺 “fine small thread,” phonetically for /yoo/, and 力 “power” together, they meant “fragile, young child.” This view does not explain the oracle bone style writing shown above. In the Key to Kanji (2010) I took the latter view.
The kun-yomi 幼い /osana’i/ means “very young; young and fragile” and 幼馴染 (“childhood friend” /osanana’jimi/). The on-yomi /yoio/ is in 幼稚園 (“kindergarten” /yoochi’en/), 幼稚な (“immature” /yoochina/) and 幼虫 (“larva” /yoochuu/).
The kanji 玄 “deep dark color; black”
For the kanji 玄, the bronze ware style writing was the same as 糸 “skein of threads.” The Old style writing that predated seal style, in purple, had dots inside the skein, possibly indicating that it was not raw color. The seal style writing, in red, was a skein of threads with an apparatus for dyeing at the top. Threads that were dyed dark meant “deep color; black.” In Japanese the meaning was applied to a person–someone who became skilled by experience.
The kun-yomi /ku’ro/ is in 玄人 (“expert; master hand” /kuro’oto/). The on-yomi /gen/ is in玄米 (“brown rice; husked rice” /genmai/) and 玄関 (“door; entryway” /ge’nkan/), originally for the entry to a Bhuddist temple. It came from the Bhuddist Zen sect notion that the entrance to the temple symbolized profound darkness leads to enlightenment.
The kanji 畜 “livestock”
For the kanji 畜 the oracle bone style writing was a skein of threads that was tied at the top (玄) and an urn that contained dye (田) at the bottom. In Old style there were two skeins, signifying many skeins together. They were soaked in an urn of dye for some length of time. Leaving the skeins in the urn to pick up the color originally meant “to keep; accumulate.” Animals were kept inside a fence, and it came to be used to mean “animal; livestock.” The kanji 畜 means “animal; beast.”
There is no kun-reading. The on-yomi /chiku/ was in 家畜 (“domestic animal; livestock” /kachiku/), 牧畜 (“stock farming; cattle raising” /bokusan/), 畜産 (“stock farming” /chikusan/). 畜生 (“a beast; brute” /chikusho’o/) is also used as cursing word by a rough male (“The hell with you. Damn it”).
The kanji 蓄 “to accumulate; store”
For the kanji 蓄 the seal style writing had 艸 “plant” at the top and 畜 “accumulate.” Together they originally signified “to accumulate or pile up plants.” From accumulating or piling up things, it meant “to store; save.” The kanji 蓄 means “to save up; stock up; learn.”
The kun-yomi 蓄える /takuwae’ru/ means “to save up; accumulate,” and is in 蓄え (“savings” /takuwae/). The on-yomi /chiku/ is in 貯蓄する (“to save; lay put aside” /chochiku-suru/) and 蓄積する (“to accumulate; amass” /chikuseki-suru/).
The kanji 幽 “dark; subtle and profound; obscure”
For the kanji 幽 in oracle bone style and bronze ware style, it had skeins of threads (the two 幺) on top of a fire for smoking. Smoke dyed threads darkened gradually. The smoking room was dark and visibility was obscured. The kanji 幽 meant “dark; subtle and profound; obscure.”
The kun-yomi 幽かな /kasu’kana/ meant “faintly.” The on-yomi /yuu/ was in 幽玄 (“elegant simplicity; the subtle and profound”), 幽霊 (“ghost; phantom” /yu’uree/) and 幽閉する (“to confine someone in a place; lock someone up” /yuuhee-suru/).
The kanji 率 “to lead; rate”
The kanji 率 was a bundle of wet threads being wrung tightly. In oracle bone style the six dots were water droplets. In seal style both ends of the skein had an apparatus to wring. Wringing a bundle of threads tightly gave the meaning of “pulling many things into one strongly” and was applied to people too to mean “to lead; head a party of people.” It was also used to mean “rate.” The kanji 率 means “to lead or head a party of people; rate.”
The kun-yomi 率いる /hikiiru/ means “to head a party of people; lead.” The on-yomi /ritsu/ meant “rate.” Another on-yomi /so’tsu/ is in 率先して (“to take the initiative” /sossen-shite/), 引率する (“to be in charge of (a party) /insotsu-suru/) and 統率する (“to command” /toosotsu-rusu/).
The kanji 滋 “nutrient”
For The kanji 滋, the oracle bone style writing had two skeins of thread in the middle of running water. The seal style had water on the left, and the right side was 茲 “(plant) to grow thick; rampart,” which was phonetically used for /ji/. Together they meant “to become moistened; profit; flourish.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ji/ is in 滋養 (“nutrient” /jiyoo/).
The kanji 慈 “to treat tenderly”
For the kanji 慈, the bronze ware style writing had two 幺, which was used phonetically for /ji/ and 心 “heart.” In seal style it was茲 and 心. Together they meant “to nurture a child; treat tenderly.”
The kun-yomi /itsukushi’mu/ means “to care tenderly; be affectionate toward.” The on-yomi /ji/ is in 慈悲深い (“merciful; charitable” /jihibuka’i/), 慈善 (“charity” /jizen/) and 慈愛 (“parental affection” /ji’ai/).
The kanji 磁 “earthen ware; magnet”
There is no ancient writing for the kanji 磁. The left side 石 means “stone; rock.” The right side 茲 was used phonetically for /ji/ to mean “something black.” Things that were black meant magnet. It also means “earthen ware; magnet.”
The next four kanji 屯純頓鈍 share 屯.
The kanji 屯 “camp; barracks of soldiers”
For the kanji 屯in oracle bone style and in bronze ware style it was the knotted end of threads in woven fabric. Pulling many threads together into one also meant a place where many people congregate, such as “camp; barracks of soldiers.”
The kun-yomi 屯する /tamuro’su/ “to gather in large numbers (of people); hang out (as a large group)” is not in Joyo kanji reading. The on-yomi /ton/ is in 駐屯する (“to be stationed” /chuuton-suru) and 駐屯地 (“army post; camp” /chuuto’nchi/).
The kanji 純 “pure; genuine”
For the kanji 純 the two bronze ware style writings were same as those of 屯. In seal style 糸 “skein of threads” was added. A knot of threads of same quality meant “pure.”
The kanji 純 meant “pure; genuine.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /jun/ is in 純粋 (“genuinely; truly; pure” /junsui/), 純正品 (“genuine product; manufacturer’s project” /junseehin/), 純毛 (“pure wool” /junmoo/) and 純真な (“pure; naïve; sincere” /junshin-na/).
The kanji 頓 “to make a deep bow; prostrate oneself”
In 頓 the left side of the seal style writing (屯) was “knotted end of threads; fringe” that hangs down. The right side (頁) was a person with headgear in formal attire, and it meant “head.” Together a kneeling person in a formal attire bowed his head down to the ground. The kanji 頓 meant “to make deep bow; prostrate oneself.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ton/ is in 無頓着な (“unconcerned” /muto’nchaku-na/) and 頓服薬 “medicine taken only when necessary; medicines to be taken only once.”
The kanji 鈍 “dull; bunt; dumb; slow”
For the kanji 鈍, the left side (金) was “metal.” The right side (屯) “knotted end of threads; fringe” signified something round. Cutlery whose blade is not sharp (that is “round”) is “dull; blunt.” Applied to a person, it meant “dumb; slow.” The kanji 鈍 meant “dull; bunt; dumb; slow.”
The kun-yomi /nibu’i/ means “slow; dumb; dull.” The on-yomi /don/ was in 鈍器 (“blunt instrument” /do’nki/), 鈍感 (“insensible; unaffected” /donkan/), 鈍痛 (”dull pain” /dontsuu/), 鈍行 (“local” /donkoo/) and 鈍角(“obtuse angle” /do’nkaku/).
Well, this post ended up rather long. I have squeezed in more kanji than usual because I wanted to finish with kanji for “thread.” In the next post on we are going to look at kanji that contain 衣 that originated from “collar.” Thank you very much for your reading. — Noriko [April 2, 2017]