The Kanji 以似台始胎治冶怠-“agricultural tool” (1)


It is no wonder at all that many kanji were originated from agricultural implements in ancient life. A long stick with a handle that had prongs, flat piece of wood or animal shoulder bone at the end was used to loosen ground, breaking up lumps in the soil, pulling in and pushing away the soil or flattening the surface. The reference books use the kanji such as 耒, 耜, 鋤, 棃, 鍬, and etc as the explanation. If we look up these kanji in a kanji-English dictionary, various words including “a plough (plow); spade; fork; hoe” come up interchangeably.

What we know from our modern life is that a plough is a large-scale implement with prongs and is pulled by an animal to turn up the ground in a larger area. For a small area among hand implements with a long handle, a spade has a flat wooden or metal blade to remove the soil; a hoe has an angled end to turn and flatten the surface; and a digging fork has long thongs that help to break up the soil. I am not a farmer, so this distinction could be wrong.

Apparently there is a phrase in English “Call a spade a spade,” which means “speak plainly without avoiding unpleasant or embarrassing issues.” My problem is that I am not certain what I have here was a spade, hoe, plough or whatever. In any event, it was a tool that was used to prepare the soil for farming. Enough of my talking to myself. Let us assume that such technicality is irrelevant when it comes to the origin of more than three thousand years old writing. The three shapes I am planning to discuss are ム in this post, and 力 and 方 in the next one or two pots. The kanji we look at in this post are 以似・台始胎治冶怠.

  1. The kanji 以 “to use; by means of; starting from”

History of Kanji 以For the kanji 以 (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, (c) and (d) in bronze ware style and (e) in seal styles was “a hoe” for a field work. It had a bent end to turn up the soil. “An implement that one uses” gave the meaning “using X; by means of.” One’s field work began with it, thus “starting from.” In kanji a person who used a hoe was added on the right side (人). The kanji 以 means “to use; by means of; starting from.”

The kun-yomi 以って /mo’tte/ means “from; by using,” and is in 以ての外 (“the most unreasoable” /motte’-no-hoka/). The on-yomi /i/ is in X以内 (“within X” /X-i’nai/), 3個以上 (“three or more” /sankoi’joo/), 以上です (“That’ll be all” /i’joodesu/), 以下の通り (“as follows“ /i’ka-no to’ori/), 以前 (“previously; once” /i’zen/), 以後 (“onward; afterward” /i’go/) and in the expression 以心伝心 (“telepathy” /i’shin denshin/).

  1. The kanji 似 “to resemble”

History of Kanji 似In bronze ware style the left one had “a hoe,” which was used phonetically for /i; shi/ to mean “to resemble,” and 口 “a mouth.” The right one had “a person” added on the right. Together they meant “a person resembling to another.” In seal style the positions of “a person” and “a hoe” were swapped. In the kanji 似 another person was added to 以. So the kanji 似 contained two people (イ and 人), which would suit very well as mnemonics. The kanji 似 means “to resemble.” <Composition of the kanji 似: イ and 以>

The kun-yomi /niru/ means “to resemble,” and is in 母親似 (“resembling one’s mother” /hahaoyani/), and 似通う (“to resemble closely” /nikayo’u/), 似合う (“to match; fit in” /nia’u/) and in the expression 他人の空似 (“chance resemblance with someone unrelated” /tanin-no-sora’ni/), 似ても似つかない (“do not bear the slightest resemblance to” /nite’mo nitsuka’nai/). The on-yomi /ji/ is in 類似(“resemblance; similarity” /ruiji).

A “hoe” also took the shape ム in the form of 台 in kanji. It is in the kanji 台始胎治冶怠.

  1. The kanji 台 “table; platform; stand”

History of Kanji 台History of Kanji 臺The kanji 台 had the kyuji 臺, which had a different history from 台, as shown on the right. Let us look at the kyuji first. The bronze ware style and seal style writing was “a watch tower,” inside which showed “an arrow hitting the ground” (至). The kyuji 臺 faithfully reflected the seal style writing. It meant “stand; tower; raised level.”

Now the shinji 台 on the left– The bronze ware style and seal style writing comprised ム “hoe,” which was used phonetically for /i/, and 口 “mouth; box.” Together they were the original kanji for 怡 “to be delighted.” 台 is probably a borrowing to mean what the kyuji meant. The kanji 台 means “table; platform; stand.” <Composition of the kanji 台: ム and 口 >

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /dai/ is in 台 (“holder; support; mount’ pedestal” /dai/), 踏み台 (“step; jump server” /humidai/). /-Tai/ is in 舞台 (“stage” /bu’tai/), 台風 (“severe tropical storm; typhoon” /taihu’u/), 屋台 (“a float; stall” /ya’tai/) and 屋台骨 (”the framework; the foundation” /yatai’bone/).

  1. The kanji 始 “to begin; start”

History of Kanji 始For the kanji 始 the bronze ware style writings comprised “a hoe” (ム), which was phonetically used for /shi/, “mouth; speaking” (口) and “woman” (女). The views on the origin vary among kanji scholars. One explains that 台 was used phonetically for /tai; dai/ to mean “womb,” and that with 女 “woman,” from giving a new life to a child, gave the meaning “to begin.” Another explains that it meant “a first-born daughter,” and it means “to begin.” The kanji 始 means “to begin; start.” <Composition of the kanji 始: 女 and 台>

The kun-yomi 始める /hajimeru/ means “to begin; start” (a transitive verb) and 始まる /hajimaru/ (an intransitive verb), and is in 事始め (“beginning of things” /kotoha’jime/). The on-yomi /shi/ is in 開始 (“start” /kaishi/), 始業時間 (“opening time; starting time of work” /shigyooji’kan/), 始終 (“from start to finish; always” /shi’juu/), 始末 (“result; disposal” /shi’matsu/), 終始一貫して(“consistent throughout” /shu’ushi ikkan-shite/).

  1. The kanji 胎 “womb”

History of Kanji 胎The seal style writing of the kanji 胎 comprised 月, a bushu nikuzuki “flesh; a part of one’s body,” and 台, which was used phonetically for /tai/ to mean “to begin.” The part of a body where a life began meant “a womb.” The kanji 胎 means “womb.” <Composition of the kanji 胎: 月 and 台>

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tai/ is in 胎児 (“fetus” /ta’iji/), 胎内 (“the interior of the womb; uterus” /ta’inai/) and 胎動 (“quickening; signs of forthcoming event” /taidoo/).

  1. The kanji 治 “to rule; cure (illness)”

History of Kanji 治The seal style writing of the kanji 治 comprised “water,” and “a hoe” (ム) and “a mouth” (口), which was used phonetically for /shi; ji/. In ancient times controlling irrigation water or flood was a very important job for a ruler. The kanji meant “to rule; govern.” The notion was also applied on people, and meant “to cure (illness); recover.” The kanji 治 means “to rule; cure (illness).” <Composition of the kanji 治: 氵 and 台>

The kun-yomi /osame‘ru/ means “to rule; control.” Another kun-yomi 治る/nao’ru/ means “to cure; recover (from illness)” and 治す /nao’su/ is its transitive verb counterpart. The on-yomi /ji/ is in 政治 (“politics” /seeji/), 明治 (“Meiji era 1868-1912” /me’eji/). Another on-yomi /chi/ is in 統治する(“to rule over; govern” /to’ochi-suru/), 治水 (“river improvement; flood control” /chisui/), 自治 (“self-governmence” /ji’chi/), 治療 (“treatment” /chiryoo/) and 治安 (“public order; law and order” /chian/).

  1. The kanji 冶 “to melt metal; finish work beautifully”

History of Kanji 冶For the kanji 冶 in the bronze ware style writing “a hoe” on the  top left and “a mouth” on the right made up the shape 台. The two short lines on the bottom left were metal pieces. Together they meant “melting metal; metallurgy.” The seal style writing had “streaks in ice” that signified smithy work– Like water freezes solid to ice or ice melts to liquid, metal work was melting and solidifying process. It became 冫, a bushu nisui “ice; icy cold” in kanji. The kanji 冶 means “to melt metal; finish work beautifully.” <Composition of the kanji 冶: 冫 and 台>

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ya/ is in 冶金 (“metallurgy” /yakin/).

  1. The kanji 怠 “lazy; to neglect; neglectful”

History of Kanji 怠For the kanji 怠 in bronze ware style and seal style it had phonetically-used 台 /tai/ and “a heart” (心). Together they made up the kanji 怡 /tai/ that meant “joyful.” When you are joyful you are more relaxed and thus become neglectful. The kanji 怠 meant “lazy; to neglect; neglectful.” <Composition of the kanji 怠: 台 and 心>

The kun-yomi /okota’ru/ means “to neglect.” Another kun-yomi is 怠ける (“to be idle; get lazy; slacken one’s efforts” /namake’ru/. The on-yomi /tai/ is in 怠惰な (“lazy” /ta’ida-na/) and 倦怠感 (“physical weariness; feeling of fatigue” /kenta’ikan/).

We shall continue on this topic in the next two posts. Thank you very much for your reading. -Noriko [December 23, 2017]

2 thoughts on “The Kanji 以似台始胎治冶怠-“agricultural tool” (1)

  1. Advanced merry Christmas everyone! Cant wait to get a final book for all jouyo kanji!

    • Merry Christmas to you too, Edward.
      Our four-year long exploration is coming to end relatively soon. I started to test what I had believed intuitively for a long time that origin can be helpful to a kanji learner in understanding and recalling kanji. During the preparation of my previous work (The Key to Kanji) I became keenly aware that bushu and other recurring components can connect and, at the same time, differentiate multiple kanji. The question was, can we actually explain all of the 2136 Joyo kanji by using two tools — recurring components and origin in ancient writing? I had to test before I could advocate it. This blog was the place of that test. You and many other readers were kindly following my exploration, sometimes along with my wandering thoughts. It was very encouraging to know that there are people who are interested in this way of leaning kanji.
      I am going to discuss about this with other kanji educators and students at a small meeting in Nagoya in February. Then, I shall start looking for the right publisher, which is not going to be an easy job because of odd fragments of kanji and other things that I want to add. I appreciate your interest and patience. I wish you and your family a happy new year. –Noriko [Christmas day of 2017]

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