The Kanji 鼎員円損貞偵具敗–貝 (3) “three-legged cooking vessel”

  1. The kanji 鼎 “three-legged bronze cooking vessel”

History of Kanji 鼎The kanji 鼎 is not a Joyo kanji, but it is the base of many kanji that contain the shape 貝 that meant “three-legged bronze vessel.” It generally had three or four legs at the bottom and two “ears” at the top. It was used to cook various foods together, including sacrificial animal meat. The food in this vessel was prepared to be used as offerings to an ancestral deity. (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (c) in bronze ware style, in green, had the features of “ears” and three or four legs. The top of (d) in bronze ware style and (e) in seal style, in red, became 目.

The kun-yomi 鼎 /kanae/ means “three-legged bronze vessel,” and is in the phrase 鼎の軽重を問われる /kanae-no-keechoo-o toware’ru/ means “to have one’s ability called in question.” The on-yomi /tee/ is in 鼎立する (“to be a three-cornered contest” /teeritsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 員 “number of people; one’s occupation; person”

History of Kanji 員(a) and (b) in oracle bone style and (c) in bronze ware style was a three-or four-legged bronze ware vessel. It was originally used as a counter for such vessels, and later for “number of people” or just “person.” A rounded or square shape at the top was interpreted as a shape of the opening at the top. A three-legged vessel had a rounded opening whereas a four-legged one had a square opening. (e) in seal style kept the opening as a square shape, and the legs became two. The kanji 員 meant “member; staff; people.” It is also used for a word to describe a person’s occupation, or a person who is engaged in that occupation.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /in/ is in 人員 (“number of people or staff” /jin-in/), 会社員 (“company employee” /kaisha’in/), 公務員 (“government employee” /koomu’in/). 事務員 (“administrative staff; clerical worker” /jimu’in/), 満員 (“full house; no vacancy” /man-in/) and 定員 (“seating capacity; quota” /teein/).

  1. The kanji 円 “round; circle”

History of Kanji 円The seal style writing and the kyuji (圓), in blue, had 員, a round top three-legged vessel, inside an enclosure (), which signified something all around. It meant “round; circular.” It is also used for the unit of Japanese currency “Japanese yen.” The shinji is 円. The Japanese currency unit (円 /en/ “Japanese yen”), Chinese currency (元yuan), and Korean currency (wong) all originated from the kanji 圓. Japanese yen’s symbol is ¥, a letter “Y” and an equal sign (=) through it.

The kun-yomi 円 /maru/ is in 円みのある (“rounded” /marumi-no-a’ru/). The on-yomi /en/ is 日本円 (“Japanese yen” /nihon-en/), 百円 (“a hundred yen” /hyaku-en/), 円形 (“round shape; ring shape” /enkee/), 楕円形 (“ellipse; oval” /daenkee/), 円周 (“circumference of a circle” /enshuu/) and 円熟した (“matured; mellowed” /enjuku-shita/).

  1. The kanji 損 “loss”

History of Kanji 損The seal style writing comprised , a bushu tehen “hand; an act that one does using a hand” and 員 “three-legged bronze ware vessel” to cook food for offering to a deity. Together they meant a hand damaging the contents of a pot or, perhaps, one of the legs. (Those bronze ware vessels were extraordinarily heavy, and we can easily imagine that the legs could have been damaged.) The kanji 損 means “to damage; impair; loss.”

The kun-yomi 損なう /sokona’u/ means “to suffer; impair; mar.” Another kun-yomi 損ねる /sokone’ru/ means “to hurt; offend,” as in 気分を損ねる (“to hurt one’s feeling” /ki’bun-o sokone’ru/). It also makes up a verb to mean “failed,” as in やり損ねる (“to fail to do” /yarisokone’ru/). The on-yomi /son/ is in 損害 (“damage; harm” /songai/), 損失 (“loss” /sonshitsu/) and 破損する (“to suffer damage; suffer breakage” /hason-suru/).

  1. The kanji 貞 “right; faithful”

History of Kanji 貞Oracle bone style (a) and (b) was smilar to 員, which was a bronze ware cooking vessel for offerings, and was used phonetically for /tee/ to mean “to inquire about a god’s will; divination.” In bronze ware style (c) and (d) had 卜 “divination” on top of the vessel. It originally meant “to hear the will of a god by divination.” Seeking the god’s will gave the meaning “right; straight; faithful.” The kanji 貞 means “right; upright; faithful.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tee/ is in 貞淑な “feminine modesty; virtuous” /teeshuku/), 貞操 (“chastity; honor; virtue” /teesoo/) and 貞女 (“virtuous woman; good faithful wife” /teejo/).

  1. The kanji 偵 “scouting; detective work; to investigate secretly”

History of Kanji 偵The seal style writing comprised イ “person” and 貞, which was used phonetially for /tee/ to mean “to listen to deity’s voice; inquire.” Together they meant a person investigating carefully by listening and inquiring. The kanji 貞 means “right; straight; faithful.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tee/ is in 探偵 (“detective” /tantee/), 偵察 (“scouting; reconnaissance; patroling” /teesatsu/) and 内偵 (“private scouting; secret investigation” /naitee/).

  1. The kanji 具 “contents; be amply provided”

History of Kanji 具(a) in oracle bone style and (b) and (c) in bronze ware style had a bronze ware vessel at the top and two hands held up at the bottom. Together a vessel that was full of offerings of food was held out reverentially with both hands. Two upward hands generally signified reverence or a polite act. Full contents of a vessel gave the meaning “contents” and also “being amply provided.” In (d) in seal style the legs dissappeared. The kanji 具 means “contents; to be amply provided (often in a set).”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /gu/ is in 具 (“topping; main ingredients” /gu/) as in ちらしずしの具 (“toppings for chirashi-zushi” /chirashizu’shi-no gu/), 具体的な (“concrete; specific” /gutaiteki-na/), 道具 (“tool” /doogu/), 家具 (“furniture” /ka’gu/) and 器具 (“equipment” /ki’gu/).

The shapes of the two different origins, “cowrie” and “three-legged bronze ware vessel,” were distinctively different in oracle bone style as well in bronze ware style. It is only seal style that the two merged and became 貝 (except the kanji 鼎).

There is one kanji that I held back from the last week’s article — the kanji 敗.

  1. The kanji 敗 “to lose; loss”

History of Kanji 敗For the kanji 敗 in oracle bone style the right sides of (a) and (b) were the same — “a hand holding a stick,” which signified “to hit; cause an action.” The left sides, however, came from two different origins. (a) was a bronze ware legged cooking vessel to prepare for an offering, whereas (b) was a cowrie. A bronze ware vessel being used for cooking for offering to a deity and a cowrie being used as money signified something valuable. In bronze ware style, (c), the left side had two cowries. Or, could they be two vessels? Then when I compared the bronze ware style writings for a cowrie and those of a legged-bronze ware vessel in other kanji, there appeared to be a difference — a legged bronze ware vessel had short sideways lines, signifying legs of the vessel.  So (c) in 敗 can be interpreted as having two cowries. A valuable cowrie broken in two by a hand meant “loss.” The right side 攴 in (e) became 攵, a bushu bokuzukuri “to do; cause something to happen” in shinji. The kanji 敗 means “loss; to fail.”

The kun-yomi 敗れる /yabure’ru/ means “to lose a fight.” The on-yomi /hai/ is in 勝敗 (“victory and defeat; result of a match” /shoohai/), 敗北 (“defeat” /haiboku/), 失敗する (“to fail; fail; make a mistake” /shippai-suru/), 腐敗する (“to become corrupt; degenerate” /huhai-suru/) and 成敗する (“to punish” /se’ebai-suru/), a slightly archaic word.

The history of the kanji 敗 having both a cowrie and a legged bronze ware vessel in oracle bone style puzzled me a little, and I wondered if there was any significance to it. Another reason why I held back the kanji 敗 from the last post was that I wondered if the double shapes in (c) and another kanji (則) shared the same origin or not. I am inclined to sort the kanji 敗into a sub-group “cowrie” of 貝 for the time being. I shall discuss the double shapes in the kanji 則 in the next post. Thank you very much for your reading. -Noriko [July 2, 2017]

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