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]

The Kanji 至室屋到致台(臺)-至


In this post we are going to look at kanji that contain 至 “an arrow reaching the ground.” They are the kanji 至室屋到致台(臺).

  1. The kanji 至 “an end; to reach an end”

History of Kanji 至For the kanji 至 in oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it was an arrow coming downward, and the line at the bottom was the ground. When an arrow hits the ground that is as far as it can go. So, it meant “an end; to reach an end.” In ten style, in red, the arrowhead was stretched, and became a part of the component 土 in kanji. The kun-yomi 至る /ita’ru/ means ”to reach an end.” It is in the phrase 至れり尽くせり (“boundless hearty hospitality” /itare’ri tsukuse’ri/) and 至る所 (“throughout; everywhere” /ita’rutokoro/). The on-yomi /shi/ is in 至急 (“without delay” /shikyuu/) and 必至の (“inevitable; sure” /hisshi-no/).

2 The kanji 室 “room”

History of Kanji 室For the kanji 室, in all three ancient writing styles, the outside was a house. The oracle bone style sample did not have a short dot at the top whereas the bronze ware style and ten style samples had it. Inside was an arrow hitting the ground, whose development was virtually the same as 至. When an arrow was shot inside a house, it would hit the wall of a room. It meant “room.” In kanji a house became a bushu ukanmuri “house.” The kun-yomi 室 /muro’/ means “cellar; greenhouse,” and is in 氷室 (“icehouse” /hi’muro/). The on-yomi /shi’tsu/ is in 洋室 (“western-style room” /yooshitsu/), 室内 (“inside a room” /shitsu’nai/), 研究室 (“research room; professor’s office” /kenkyu’ushitsu/) and 暗室 (“darkroom” /anshitsu/.)

  1. The kanji 屋 “house”

History of Kanji 屋For the kanji 屋 in ten style the bottom was an arrow reaching the ground, as seen above. The upper left shape尸, however, is a problematic shape for us if we look for a one-on-one correspondence between a shape and the meaning. As a bushu in kanji it is called shikabane. It appeared in a number of kanji, and there are a few different interpretations, including “deceased person,” “roof” and “buttock.”

History of Kanji 尸(frame)The shape 尸 shikabane: The shape 尸 is not a currently used kanji, but its history was well-documented, as shown on the right. It was a person in a sitting position – a person in a sluggish posture or a deceased person. The name shikabane means a dead body. There is a non-Joyo kanji 屍, which consists of a bushu shikabane and the kanji 死 “death.”

The Setsumon account of the kanji 屋 mentions two meanings, “a deceased person” and “a house.” How are the two meanings related? Shirakawa’e explanation is that 屋 was a mortuary where a deceased person was temporarily enshrined. The component 至 added the meaning that the location was indicated by the god with an arrow. The Kadokawa dictionary’s explanation is more appealing to us in modern life even though it lacks the explanation of where it came from. It says that 尸 was a draped cloth and 至 signified a place deep in the back of a house, that is a sleeping chamber in the back. From that it came to be used to mean “house.”

The kun-yomi /ya/ is not used by itself but it is in 屋根 (“roof” /ya’ne/), 本屋 (“bookstore” /ho’nya/). The on-yomi /o’ku/ is in 家屋 (“house” /ka’oku/), 屋上 (“rooftop” /okujoo/).

 4. The kanji 到 “to arrive”

History of Kanji 到For the kanji 至, in the two bronze ware style samples on the left both had an arrow that reached the end, and a standing person on the side. Together they signified a person reaching the end or goal. So far it makes sense, doesn’t it. But then, something happened in ten style — the right side became a knife or sword. In ancient writing the shape for a person and the shape for a sword looked very similar. The Setsumon’s account of 到 took the right side as a phonetic component for /to’o/ from 刀 “knife.” Looking at the bronze ware style sample, it appears more likely that it was miscopied as a sword. That makes the formation of this kanji to be a semantic composite writing, rather than a semantic-phonetic composite writing. In kanji, the right side further changed to a bushu ritto /rittoo/, “vertical sword.” It means “to reach an end; arrive.” The difference between these two kanji 至 and 到 could be that 至 is the end itself whereas 到 concerns a person reaching the end, meaning “to reach; arrive.” The kun-yomi 到る /ita’ru/ means “to arrive; reach; arrive.” The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 到着 (“arrival” /toochaku/), 到底できない (“cannot possibly” /tootee deki’nai/) and 殺到する (“to rush out” /sattoo-suru/.)

  1. The kanji 致 “to do; make; cause”

History of Kanji 致For the kanji 致 in ten style the left side was now familiar shape to us. The right side was “footprint” signifying “walking.” Together they originally meant “to go to the destination on foot.” The meaning changed to “to do; make; cause.” The “correct” kanji shape, in light blue, originally had a bushu suinyo 夂 (/suinyoo/) on the right. It was not a kyujitai, however. The current kanji uses a bushu bokuzukuri, which means “to act upon.” A bushu bokuzukuri originated from “a hand holding a stick.” It is interesting to think that the old kanji had a footprint whereas the shinjitai came from a hand. The kanji 致 means “to do; make; cause.” The kun-yomi 致す /ita’su/ is a humble verb of する to mean “to do,” as in 私が致します (“I will do it.” /watakushi-ga itashima’su/.) The on-yomi /chi/ is in 致命的な (“fatal” /chimeeteki-na/) and 一致する (“to correspond with; fall in line with” /itchi-suru/).

  1. The Kanji 台 (臺) “stand; raised level”

History of Kanji 台 (臺)There is one more kanji that I would like to put in among kanji that contain 至 even though the shinjitai does not. In bronze ware style and ten style on the left the top was a tall tower to watch enemy. It shared the same origin with the kanji 高 “tall.” The bottom showed a house where an arrow ended and stayed. Together they meant “stand; tower; raised level.” The kyujitai, in blue, consisted of the kanji 吉 and 室. In shinjitai, it was replaced by the shape 台. The history of the shape 台 is shown on the right.

History of Kanji 台(frame)The kanji : The top was a haw and the bottom was a mouth or words. Together they meant “to begin communal fieldwork.” It was the original shape of the kanji 始 “to begin.” So the shape 台 had no relationship with the meaning “stand; platform.” I would think that people were using this shape as a simplified writing for a very complex kanji such as 臺.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 台 /da’i/ means “stand; platform,” and is in 台所 (“kitchen” /daidokoro/.)  /tai/ is in the country name Taiwan, which is written both in 台湾 in shinjitai and 臺灣 in kyujitai. On this blog I am afraid that the text font size is too small to make out the kyujitai.

I think we have covered a house enough for now. Next we will go back to outside the house to look for other origins. [August 8, 2015]