The Kanji 牛物利件牧牲半判伴畔   


I have written last week that I was going to take a break from writing for a while. I am posting a new one so soon. This post was prompted by a comment from a reader last week about the origin of the kanji 物, which involves the discussion of the bushu ushihen “ox; cow.”  First we look at kanji with a bushu ushihen– 牛物件牧牲 with revisiting 利. Then we look at the kanji with 半-半判伴畔.

  1. The kanji  牛 “bull; ox”

For the kanji 牛 in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and seal style, in red, the top was an ox head with its two horns growing upwards, and the bottom was its body. It meant “an ox; a cow.” In kanji a short-slanted stroke was added on the top left for an emphasis on the horns. The kanji 牛 means “cow; ox; cow.” [Composition of the kanji 牛: a short ノ, 二 and丨]

The kun-yomi 牛 /ushi/ means “cow; bull; ox; cattle.” The on-yomi /gyuu/ is in 乳牛 “dairy cow; dairy cattle” /nyuugyuu/, 牛乳 “milk” /gyuunyuu/, 牛肉 “beef” /gyuuniku/, 牛車 “ox-drawn carriage used by nobility in the Heian period” /gi’ssha/ and 水牛 “buffalo” /suigyuu/.

  1. The kanji 物 “stuff; thing; various; to select”

For the kanji 物 there was an old view that the right side was streamers of different colors. Oxen had different coloration and signified “various or assorted.” From various things it meant “thing; stuff.” Another view (seen in Shirakawa) seems to explain the ancient writings here better. (a) was “a plough or hoe spattering the soil,” which was phonetically /butsu/. This eventually became the shape 勿 in kanji. In (b) and (c) “an ox,” a large animal, signifying all animals, was added. (d) had “a plough with spattering soil” only. (e) comprised “an ox” and “a plough.” Cows or oxen that pulled a plough for tilling the fields had different coloration, thus it meant “various or assorted.” Choosing from various things also signified “to select; make one’s choice.” The kanji 物 means “stuff; thing; various; to select.” [Composition of the kanji 物: 牛 and 勿]

The kun-yomi 物 /mono’/ means “thing; matter; article; goods,” and is in 安物 “cheap article; inferior article” /yasumono/, 買い物 “shopping” /kaimono/, 生き物 “living creature” /iki’mono/ and 物々しい “showy; stately” /monomonoshi’i/. The on-yomi /butsu/ is in 物品 “goods; an article” /buppin/, 物理学 “physical science” /butsuri’gaku/, 物色する “look for; select” /busshoku-suru/ and 見物する “to go sight-seeing” /kenbutsu-suru/. Another on-yomi /motsu/ is in 禁物 “tabooed thing; forbidden thing” /kinmotsu/.

[The interpretation of the shape in (a), (b) and (c) as “a plough or hoe spattering the soil” is also relevant to the kanji 利. So, let us look at the kanji 利 here. It is a revision of my earlier writing a year ago.]

The kanji 利 “sharp;  useful; advantageous”

For the kanji 利 (a) comprised “a knife” or “a plough or hoe” and “a rice plant with crop.” (b), (c) and (d) comprised of “a rice plant” and “a plough or hoe spattering the soil.” A sharp pointed plough or hoe could dig up the soil effectively and be useful. It meant “useful; advantageous; sharp.” In (e) the plough or hoe became replaced by “a knife,” preserving the sense of a tool that was sharp. (On the other hand in 物 it became 勿.) In kanji it was replaced by 刂 a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji comprises 禾, a bushu nogihen, and刂 a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji 利 means “sharp;  useful; advantageous.”

  1. The kanji 件 “case; matter”

The seal style writing of the kanji 件 had イ “an act that a person does” and 牛 “an ox.” Together they signified “a person counting oxen in a herd” or “counting cases.” The kanji 件 means “case; matter.” [Composition of the kanji 件: イ  and 牛]

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ken/ is in 事件 “incidence; case” /ji’ken/, 条件付き “conditional” /jookentsuki/, 件名 “case name” /kenmee/, 別件 “separate charge; different case” /bekken/, 用件 “business; things to be done” /yooke’n/ and 人件費 “personnel expenses” /jinke’nhi/.

  1. The kanji 牧 “to herd cattle; a place where cattle graze; pasture”

For the kanji 牧 at the top left (a) had “sheep” while (b), (c), (d) and (e) all had “ox.” (The direction of the horns differentiated the two animals.) The bottom in all was “a hand holding a stick to herd sheep or oxen” (攴攵, a bushu bokunyuu “to cause.”) Where animals grazed was “pasture.” The kanji 牧 means “to herd cattle; a place where cattle graze; pasture.” [Composition of the kanji 牧: 牛 and 攵]

The kun-yomi /maki/ is in 牧場 “pasture; meadow” /makiba’/. The on-yomi /boku/ is in 放牧 “pasturage; grazing” /hooboku/, 牧師 “pastor; minister; cleric” /bo’kushi/, 遊牧 “nomadism” /yuuboku/, 牧場 “stock farm; ranch” /bokujoo/ and 牧歌的な “pastoral; idyllic” /bokkateki-na/.

  1. The kanji 牲 “sacrifice; sacrificial animal”

For the kanji 牲 the oracle bone style writing comprised “a sheep” and “a new emerging plant” used phonetically for /see/ to mean “life.” Together they signified “live sheep that was offered to a god as a sacrificial animal.” From bronze ware style on, however “an ox” was used. An ox is a big animal, and a sacrificial ox was more valuable than a smaller animal. The kanji 牲 means “sacrifice; sacrificial animal.” [Composition of the kanji 牲: 牛 and 生]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /see/ is in 犠牲になる“to sacrifice oneself” /gisee-ni na’ru/ and 犠牲者 “victim; prey” /gise’esha/.

The next four kanji 半判伴畔 contain 半, which came from a half of an axe.

6. The kanji 半 “a half”

For the kanj 半 the top of bronze ware style and seal style writings was ハ “to divide something in half” used phonetically for /han/. The bottom was “an ox.” Together they signified an ox that was cut in half.  In kanji ハ flipped upside down forming a sort of a truncated katakana ソ. The kanji 半 means “a half.”  [Composition of the kanji 半: a truncated ソ,二 and丨]

The kun-yomi 半ば /nakaba’/ means “the middle,” and is in 月半ば “middle of the month” /tsuki nakaba’/. The on-yomi /han/ is in 過半数 “majority; more than half” /kaha’nsuu/, 上半身 “the upper body” /jooha’nshin/, 生半可な “shallow; superficial” /namahanka-na/, 半可通 “superficial knowledge; smatterer” /hanka’tsuu/, 折半する “to cut into halves; split in half” /se’ppan-suru/ and 半べそをかく “be on the verge of crying” /hanbeso-o ka’ku/.

  1. The kanji 判 “a seal; to judge; discern”

For the kanji 判 the seal style writing comprised 半 “half” used phonetically for /han/ and “a knife” adding the meaning dividing something in half. After signing a contract both parties took one half of the contract as proof. In a dispute of a contract, a judge decided which party was right. In kanji the knife became 刂, a bushu rittoo. The kanji 判means “a seal; to judge; discern.” [Composition of the kanji 判: 半 and 刂]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /han/ is in 判子 “hanko seal” /hanko/, 判決 “judicial decision; ruling” /hanketsu/, 公判 “public trial” /koohan/, 小判 “koban; Japanese gold coin of the Edo period” /ko’ban/, 判定勝ち “winning on point” /hanteegachi/, 判読する “to decipher; make out” /handoku-suru/, 談判 “negotiation; bargaining” /da’npan/ and 判事 “judge” /ha’nji/.

  1. The kanji 伴 “to accompany someone; companion”

The seal style writing of the kanji 伴 comprised “an act that a person does,” which became イ, a bushu ninben in kanji, and 半 “half” used phonetically for /han/. They signified two people, each being a half of each other’s accompaniment. The kanji 伴 means “to accompany someone; companion.” [Composition of the kanji 伴: イ and 半]

The kun-yomi 伴う /tomona’u/ means “to accompany; bring in its train.” The on-yomi /han/ is in 同伴者 “one’s companion” /dooha’nsha/, お相伴する “to join for a meal” /oshooban-suru/, 伴走する “to pace set; run alongside” /bansoo-suru/ and 伴奏 “accompaniment in music” /bansoo/.

  1. The kanji 畔 “a side; a ridge”

For the kanji 畔 the seal style writing comprised 田 “rice paddies” and 半 used phonetically for /han/ tomean “the side.” They meant the side or ridge of rice paddies, which was used for a walk path. It also meant “side.” The kanji 畔 means “a side; a ridge.” [Composition of the kanji 畔: 田 and 半]

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /han/ is in 湖畔”lakeside” /kohan/ and 河畔”riverside” /kahan/.

Now I return to my break. Thank you very much for your reading. –Noriko [June 24, 2018]

Year of the Sheep 羊洋達鮮群 – 羊 ひつじ (1)



A Happy New Year. I should have started with this greeting in the last post.  明ける /akeru/ means “a day breaks; a new dawn comes.” The word おめでとう /omedetoo/ is the polite style of the adjective めでたい /medeta’i/ “auspicious.” So the greeting /akema’shite omedetoo-gozaima’su/ that we exchange literary means, “The new year has broken and we celebrate this auspicious occasion.”

History of Kanji 未In the Chinese zodiac calendar, the year of 2015 is the year of the sheep, /hitsujidoshi/ in Japanese. The kanji for the word hitsujidoshi is 未年, not 羊年. The kanji 未 means “yet,” as in 未だやらない (“I am not doing it yet” /ma’da yaranai/). The history of the kanji 未 is shown on the right. In oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it had a tree, 木, and, an extra line, 一, at the top to indicate an emphasis on the meaning – The treetop was “yet to grow.” The ten style writing, in red, was more stylized. (We have looked at the kanji 妹, a female member of the family yet to grow, “younger sister” in the November 27, 2014, post.)

The kanji for the animal sheep 羊 is nothing to do with the kanji 未. In fact all the twelve animals for the cycle of 12 years were chosen arbitrarily. Last year was the year of the horse 馬, umadoshi (午年). In our modern life in Japan, the only occasions when most of us even think about those animals are if we discover that someone was born in the year of the same animal — it may be a conversation topic. Another occasion would be in December and January in choosing a design for a nengajo 年賀状 (“new years greeting postcard” /nenga’joo/), or buying an engimono 縁起物 “good luck charm,” such as the one on the right. By the way, Japan celebrates new years day, 正月 /shoogatsu/, by the Gregorian calendar (since 1873.) I used to feel awkward when a Chinese colleague would greet me cheerfully, “A happy new year,” in February, when I was already over the excitement of a new year. Now, what kind of year will the year of sheep be? I hope it is a very good one for everyone. We are going to see in this and next posts that the kanji that contain 羊 are all something good and desirable.

(1) The kanji 羊 “sheep”

History of Kanji 羊In oracle bone and bronze ware styles, it was an image of a sheep viewed from the front – two horns that curved down at the top, and the body. The History of Kanji 牛This image is often in contrast with the image of the kanji 牛, whose horns were upward, as shown on the right.

In the ancient times sheep had many uses. The hide was good for clothing and making a tent; wool for clothing and making yarn; the meat for nutrition; and the horns and bones for making tools, etc. Sheep were also used as sacrificial animals in religious rites. With all these good uses that sheep provided, when used as a component, the shape 羊 usually gives the meaning of goodness and desirability.

The kun-yomi 羊 /hitsuji/ means “sheep” and is in 子羊 (“lamb” /kohi’tsuji/). The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 羊毛 (“wool” /yoomoo/) and 羊皮紙 (“parchment” /yoohi’shi/). I do not believe that parchment was used in China or Japan. The kanji 羊 is customarily used for 山羊 (“goat” /ya’gi/.)

(2) The kanji 洋 “ocean”

History of Kanji 洋The oracle bone style of the kanji 洋 had one or two sheep in flowing water. The Setsumon’s explanation was that it was the name of a river. The kanji was used to mean “ocean; abroad.” In ten style, water and sheep got separated and were placed side by side, keeping the general rule that the left side gave the meaning and the right side gave the pronunciation.

There is no kun-yomi in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 東洋 (“the east; orient” /to’oyoo/), 西洋 (“the west” /se’eyoo/), 洋服 (“western-style clothes” /yoohuku/), as contrasted to 和服 (“Japanese clothing, such as kimono” /wafuku/), 洋風 (“western style” /yoohuu/) and 太平洋 (“the Pacific Ocean” /taihe’eyooo/).

(3) The kanji 達 “to attain; reach; a plural suffix for person”

History of Kanji 逹In oracle bone style, the left side was a crossroad, and the right side had a person and a footprint. Together they meant “to go; something goes without a hitch.”  In bronze ware style, the right side was a sheep to signify the scene in which a lamb was born smoothly. In ten style, the left side was the precursor to the bushu shinnyuu (a crossroad and a footprint together). From something going without a hitch, it also meant “to attain; reach; healthy; skillful.” It is also used as a plural suffix for people.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tatsu/ is in 達成する (“to complete; reach” /tassee-suru/), 到達する (“to arrive at” /tootatsu-suru/), 達者だ (“healthy and active; skillful at” /tassha-da/), 子供達 (“children” /kodomo’tachi/) and 友達 (“friends” /tomodachi/.)

(4) The kanji 鮮 “fresh; vivid”

History of Kanji 鮮The bronze ware style of the kanji 鮮 had a sheep at the top and a fish at the bottom. Phonetically it meant “raw; fishy smell.”  Freshness of fish and meat meant “fresh.” It is also means “distinctive; clear.”

The kun-yomi 鮮やかな /aza’yaka-na/ means “vivid (color).” The on-yomi /se’n/ is in 鮮明 な (“clear and sharp” /senmee-na/, 新鮮な (“fresh” /shinsen-na/) and 鮮魚 (“fresh fish” /se’n-gyo/).

(5) The kanji 群  “to throng; crowd; swarm”

History of Kanji 群In the bronze ware style of the kanji 群, the sheep was at the bottom. The top was the origin of the kanji 君. The kanji 君 had a hand (I call this type of hand “a side-ways hand“) holding a stick (on the left), and a mouth underneath. A feudal lord governed people by word and stick. A flock of sheep is meek and easily herded. Together someone herding a flock of sheep meant a feudal load governing a lot of people. It meant “flock; throng; crowd.”

The kun-yomi 群れ /mure’/ means “flock; herd; group’ and is in 群がる (”to crowd; swarm; throng” /muraga’ru/). The on-yomi /gu’n/ is in 群衆 (“crowd; throng” /gunshuu/) and 大群 (“large group” /taigun/.)

There are many more frequently used kanji that contain 羊. We will continue with this topic in the next post. [January 11, 2015]