The Kanji 貝貨貯貢賃得負貿貴遺潰- cowrie (1)


The shape 貝 in kanji is used in two unrelated meanings. One is from a cowrie, and it carried the meaning “monetary value,” and another is from a bronze ware tripod (鼎), which carried the meaning of “tripod; pod.” We start our exploration with those that originated from a cowrie. The post this week is on the kanji 貝貨貯貢賃得負貿貴遺潰.

  1. The kanji 貝 “shell”

History of Kanji 貝For the kanji 貝, (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (c) and (d) in bronze ware style, in green, was a cowrie, a spiral shell that has an opening in the back. A cowrie was found in the southern sea of China, a long way from the inland where the civilization was situation. It was treasured and valued and was used for an exchange of goods and as money. A majority of kanji that means “value; money” contain a component 貝 “cowry,” as we shall see in a few posts now.  By itself the kanji 貝 means “shell; shellfish,” inclusive of all shapes of shells.

In Japanese a cowrie is called 子安貝 /koyasu’gai/. In the early Heian period story called Taketori Monogatari 竹取物語, one of the impossible riddles that the beautiful young lady, called Kaguya-hime, gave to her five noble suitors was to bring to her a koyasugai that a swallow mothered. In the end none of the riddles for the five suitors was answered successfully including the one involving a koyasugai, and Kaguya-hime returned to the Moon where she came from.

The kun-yomi 貝 /kai/ means seashell,” and is in 二枚貝 “bivalve” /buna’igai/), 子安貝 (“cowrie” /koyasu’gai/), 貝殻 (“shell” /kaiga’ra/) and 貝塚 (“shell mound; Kaizuka” /ka’izuka/). There is no on-yomi in Joyo kanji.

  1. The kanji 貨 “goods”

History of Kanji 貨For the kanji 貨, the left side of the seal style writing, in red, was a standing person (イ), and the right side had ヒ as a phonetic feature /ka/ to mean “change” and 貝 “cowrie; valuable.” Together they meant something that could be exchanged as money or for goods. In kanji the top became 化 (“to change” and phonetically /ka/). The kanji 貸 means “goods; money.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ka/ is in 貨物 (“freight; cargo” /ka’motsu/), 貨幣 (“money” /ka’hee/), 金貨 (“gold coin” /kinnka/), 雑貨 (“sundries; miscellaneous goods” /zakka/), 百貨店 (“department store” /hyakka’ten/) and 硬貨 (“coin” /ko’oka/).

  1. The kanji 貯 “to save; store”

History of Kanji 貯For the kanji 貯 (a) in oracle bone style was a container, the inside of which showed a cowrie. It meant “to store valuable things.” In (b) and (c) in bronze ware style the container and the cowrie became two separate components top and bottom, which were later placed side by side in seal style, (d). Cowries were so important that they were kept in an elaborate bronze ware container called 貯貝器 /choba’iki/. In kanji the right side 丁 seems to be out of place but in fact one of the origins of the kanji 丁 was a square shape.  The kanji 貯 means “to save up; lay up; make cash of.”

The kun-yomi 貯める /tameru/. The on-yomi /cho/ is in 貯金 (“saving; deposit (in a bank)” /chokin/), 貯蓄 (”saving up; putting aside” /chochiku/), 貯蔵庫 (“storage; depository” /chozo’oko/) and 貯水池 (“water reservoir” /chosu’ichi/).

  1. The kanji 貢 “tribute”

History of Kanji 貢The top of the seal style writing for the kanji 貢, 工, was used phonetically for /koo/ to mean “product; skilled work,” and the bottom 貝 was “cowrie; money.” Many kinds of products of value were paid as a tribute.  The kanji 貢 means “tribute; contribution.”

The kun-yomi 貢ぐ /mitsu’gu/ means “to pay a tribute; support financially,” and is in 貢物 (“present” /mitsugimono/). The on-yomi /koo/ means 貢献 (“contribution” /kooken/). Another on-yomi /gu/ was in 年貢 (“land tax; tribute” /nengu/).

  1. The kanji 賃 “wage”

History of Kanji 賃For the kanji 賃, in (a) and (b) in bronze ware style and (c) in seal style the left side and the top of the right side made up 任, which was used phonetically for /jin/ to mean “work.” The bottom right was 貝 “cowrie.” Together they meant paying money to hire a person to do work for wages. The kanji 賃 means “wages.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /chin/ is in 賃金 (“wage; pay; salary” /chi’ngin/), 家賃 (“house-rent” /ya’chin/), 運賃 (“fair; tariff” /u’nchin/) and 賃貸住宅 (“rental housing” /chintaiju’utaku/).

  1. The kanji 得 “gain; profit; benefit”

History of Kanji 得For the kanji 得, (a) in oracle bone style and (c) in bronze ware style had a cowrie and a hand, whereas (b) and (d) in bronze ware style had a crossroad added. Together they mean one going “to obtain something valuable.”  In seal style, on the left side a crossroad was added to a cowrie, and a hand was on the right side. From “going out to gain something valuable” it meant “to gain; make a profit.” In kanji the cowrie became a 旦 “sunrise” and a hand became 寸.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /toku/ is in 得をする- 得する (“to profit; benefit; gain” /toku-osuru; toku-suru), 得意になる(“to preen; become proud” /toku’i-ni naru/), お買い得 (“great deal; bargain” /okaidoku/), 納得する (“to understand” /nattoku-suru/) and 得心する (“to consent to; realize” /tokushin-suru/).

  1. The kanji 負 “to carry on one’s back; be defeated; negative”

History of Kanji 負The seal style writing of the kanji 負 had a person with his back bent at the top, and “cowrie,” signifying “money” at the bottom. Together they meant a man carrying something on his back, or a debt, on his bent back. The kanji 負 means “debt; to lose; owe; carry on one’s back.”

The kun-yomi 負ける /makeru/ means “to be defeated; lose,” and is in 勝ち負け (“victory and defeat” /ka’chimake/) and 負けず嫌い (“hating to lose; unyielding; competitive.”)  Another kun-yomi 負う/ou/ means “to carry on the back; have a debt,” and is in 背負う “to carry on one’s back.”  The on-yomi word 負 /hu/ means “negative (number); minus,” and is in 負債 (“debt; liabilities” /husai/). /-Bu/ is in 勝負 (“match; contest; game” /sho’obu/).

  1. The kanji 貿 “trade”

History of Kanji 貿For the kanji 貿 in bronze ware style and seal style, the top was used phonetically for /boo/ to mean “to divide in two,” and the bottom was “cowrie.” Together they signified “to trade goods” The kanji 貿means “to trade.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /boo/ is used only in the word 貿易 (“foreign trade; commerce” /booeki/), such as 貿易風 (“trade wind” /booekihuu/), 貿易収支 (“balance of trade” /booeki-shu’ushi/), 貿易自由化 (“liberalization of trade; deregulation of trade” /booeki-jiyuuka/) and 貿易摩擦 (“trade friction; trade dispute” /booeki-ma’satsu/).

  1. The kanji 貴 “noble; precious”

History of Kanji 貴In seal style writing, the kanji 貴 had two hands holding something reverently. The bottom was a cowrie. Together they signified “to handle something valuable carefully.” It means “precious; valuable; of high value.” It is also used for people to mean “noble; august.” The kanji 貴 means “precious; valuable; noble; venerable.”

The kun-yomi 貴い /tooto’i/ means “august; venerable; noble.” Another kun-yomi 貴ぶ /tatto’bu/ means “to appreciate; treasure.” The on-yomi /ki/ is in 貴重な (“precious; valuable” /kichoo-na/), 高貴な (“noble” /ko’oki-na/) and 貴族 (“aristocracy” /ki’zoku/).

  1. The kanji 遺 “to leave behind; give”

History of Kanji 遺In bronze ware style, (a) had “two hands holding something carefully” (top), “crossroad” (left) and a cowrie (bottom right).  In (b) a hand was at the bottom, and a footprint was added at the bottom left. Together they meant someone leaving something precious behind. In (c), underneath two hands holding a thing carefully, were a crossroad and footprint, which in (d) in seal style became 辵 “to go forward,” a precursor of a bushu shinnyoo.  The kanji 遺 means “to leave behind; bequest.”

The kun-yomi 遺す /noko’su/ means “to leave behind.” The on-yomi /i/ is in 遺品 (“article left behind (after one’s death); memento” /ihin/), 遺失物 (“lost-and-found article” /ishitsu’butsu/), 遺跡 (“remains; historical spot; ruins” /iseki/) and 遺書 (“a will; a note left by a dead person” /i’sho/).

  1. The kanji 潰 “to crush; collapse”

History of Kanji 潰The seal style writing of the kanji 潰 had “water” and 貴, which was used phonetically for /kai/ to mean “to collapse.” Together their ogirinal meaning was  “a breach of water; bursting a bank.” It described a forceful destruction such as one made by a collapse of a bank –“collapse; crush; smash.” The kanji 潰 means “a breach of water; collapse; crush.”

The kun-yomi 潰す /tsubusu/ means “to crush; break down; squash,” and its intransitive verb counterpart 潰れる (“to tumble; crumble; collapse” /tsubureru/). The expression シラミ潰しに・しらみつぶしに means “(to check) thoroughly; one by one” /shirami-tsu’bushi-ni/). (シラミ /shirami/ means “lice.”) The on-yomi /kai/ is in 決潰 (“collapse; rip” /kekkai/), 潰滅 (“annihilation; total demolition” /kaimetsu/) and 潰瘍 (“ulcer” /kaiyoo/).  The kanji 潰 was not in the previous Joyo kanji, and the kanji 壊 was substituted until the revision.

There are many more kanji with a cowrie. I expect we shall need a couple of more posts on this topic. Thank you very much for your reading. — Noriko [June 17, 2017]

The Kanji 負危色配巻港選(絶己) – Posture (7)


However small, every component of kanji had a role to play in its origin. The shape that looks like a truncated katakana /ku/ (ク) that we see at the top of the kanji 急, 負, 色 and 危 is no exception. History of Kanji 急 (frame)It would have been more convincing if we had a sample writing in oracle bone style or bronze ware style. Fortunately we had a full range of ancient style writings for the kanji 及. A newly joined reader may say, “The kanji 及 does not have a truncated /ku/ shape.” That is true, but in one of the earlier posts [February 7, 2015 post] we saw that in ten style 急 and 及 had shared the same shape, as shown on the right side. History of Kanji 及(frame)

The kanji 及 It is reasonable that what we see in the development of 及 can be used to understand the shape in 急負色危. For the kanji 及, in oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it  had a person standing, bending his back slightly. Then in ten style, in red, his arms stretched long and his back bent forward deeply. This shape became the kanji 及, and 急 by adding 心 “heart” at the bottom. From this we can say that the truncated /ku/ shape in those kanji meant “person” standing or crouching with his arms extended. Let us look at three kanji here.

  1. The kanji 負 “to bear; carry on one’s back”

History of Kanji 負In the ten style of the kanji 負, the top was a person with a stooped back. The bottom was a cowry that represented something valuable or money. Together a person carrying money or something on his back meant “to carry something on the back.” Carrying a burden or debt on one’s back also meant “to owe.” It was also extended to mean “loss.”

The kun-yomi 負う /ou/ means “to owe; carry on his back,” and is in 重任を負う (“to bear a heavy responsibility” /juunin-o ou/) and 背負う (“to carry on one’s back; to shoulder” /seo’u/). Another kun-yomi 負ける /makeru/ means “to lose” and is in 勝ち負け (“victory and defeat” /kachi’make/) and 根負けする (“to have one’s patience exhausted” /konmake-suru/). The on-yomi /hu/ is in 負担 (“to bear” /hutan/), 自負する (“to take pride in; flatter oneself in” /jihu-suru/). Another sound /bu/ is in 勝負 (“match; fight” /sho’obu/.)

  1. The kanji 危 “perilous; danger”

History of Kanji 危The ten style of the kanji 危 had a person crouching dangerously on top of a cliff (厂). It signified something perilous or dangerous. To emphasize danger, another person crouching was added under the cliff. From someone being scared, it meant “danger; perilous.” In kanji, however, the person changed to the shape that had some similarity to hushizukuri (卩), except that the bottom goes up. This is another shape of a “person” in other kanji, such as 犯 “to violate” and 氾 “to flood.”

There are two kun-yomi for 危. 危ない /abunai/ means “dangerous” and 危うく /ayauku/ “almost; nearly” is used when a danger is averted in the end, in the phrase such as 危うく遅刻するところだった (“I almost arrived late (but I did not)” /ayauku chikokusuru-tokoro’-datta/). The on-yomi /ki/ is in 危険物 (“dangerous article” /kike’nbutsu/), 危惧する (“to feel apprehensive about” /ki’gu-suru/), and 危機一髪で (“in the nick of time” /ki’ki ippatsu/.)

  1. The kanji 色 “color; characteristics of; lust”

History of Kanji 色In the ten style of the kanji 色, the top was a person, and the bottom was another person. Together they meant amorous affairs. The meaning of color comes from the heightened facial color. It was also used as “characteristics.” In kanji the bottom became the shape 巴 called /tomoe/. (It is not a Joyo-kanji.) In judo there is a throw called 巴投げ /tomoenage/ “somersault throw” from a crouched position. I do not know if it is an official name of 技 (“winning move” /waza’/). The kun-yomi 色 /iro’/ means “color; complexion; lust; kind,” and is in 色々な (“various” /iroirona/), 色紙 (“color folding paper for origami craft” /iro’gami/), 色事 (“amorous affairs” /irogo’to/). The on-yomi /sho’ku/ is in 特色 (“specific character” /tokushoku/). Another on-yomi /shi’ki/ is in 色素 (“pigment” /shiki’so/.)

History of Kanji 絶(frame)The kanji 絶: The kanji 色 also appears on the right side of the kanji 絶. The writing in gray is an old style given in Setsumon. It has shelves of skeins of threats.  In ten style, we can see that the top right came from a knife rather than a person, shown on the right. From “cutting (/se’tsu/ phonetically meant “to cut”) threads with a knife,” it meant “to cut; cease.” They are related in meaning in that the kanji 絶 “to cut; cease” came from “cutting beautiful color threads.” Beautiful color threads gave the meaning of “exquisitely beautiful.” Something was so exquisitely beautiful that it would not allow comparison, thus “absolutely.”

The next four kanji 配巻港 and 選 share the component 己.

History of Kanji 己(frame)The kanji 己:  The kanji 己 by itself means “self” as in 自己 (“self” /ji’ko/), 知己 (“someone who knows me well; good friend” /chi’ki/), and 利己的な (“selfish” /rikoteki-na/). The meaning “oneself’ seemingly fits well with the meaning of “person.” However, the development of 己 as kanji is unrelated to “person,” as shown on the right. The three ancient styles are generally interpreted as some sort of ruler or tool used in carpentry work. It was just borrowed to mean “self.”

  1. The kanji 配 “to hand out; deliver”

History of Kanji 配In oracle bone style and bronze ware style of the kanji 配, the left side was a rice wine cask, and the right side was a person with his hands on his knees watching the rice wine cask closely. It signified a person sitting in front of rice wine to be served or a person who stayed close by. It meant “to deliver; deal; hand out.” In ten style, the shape for the person on the right side became one continuous line, dropping the hands, and became the 己 shape in kanji.

The kun-yomi 配る /kuba’ru/ means “to distribute; arrange.” The on-yomi /hai/ is in 配達する (“to deliver (good)” /haitatsu-suru/), 配分する (“to distribute; apportion among” /haibun-suru/), 配偶者 (“spouse” /haigu’usha/). Another sound /pai/ is in 心配する (“to worry” /shinpaisuru/).

  1. The kanji 巻 “to roll”

History of Kanji 巻In the ten style of the kanji 巻, in the bottom half we see a crouched person under two hands. But what was the top half about? There are at least two different views. One view was that it was rice (米), and altogether they meant two hands making rice ball. From that it meant “to roll.” Another view was that the top was an animal paw, which signified animal hide. (An animal hide was used to write a pledge and cut in half as a stub, as in the kanji 券.) Together they meant two hands rolling an animal hide. By the time of kyujitai kanji, in blue, there was a drastic change. Before paper was invented, a record was written on bamboo or wooden tablets that were tied together and rolled up for storage. From that the kanji 巻 is also used as a volume counter for a serial.

The kun-yomi 巻く /maku/ means “to roll” and the word 海苔巻き (“seaweed sushi roll” /nori’maki/), 巻き込まれる (“to get dragged into” /makikomare’ru/). The on-yomi /ka’n/ is in 第三巻 (“third volume” /da’i sa’nkan/). Another on-yomi /ke’n/ is in 席巻する (“to sweep over” /sekken-suru/).

  1. The kanji 港 “port”

History of Kanji 港For the kanji 港, we have three different ten style samples shown on the left. Writing (a) is comprised of 共 “together” at the top, from many hands holding up something together, and the bottom 邑 “village,” from an area where many people live. Together they meant a busy place where many activities were happening. Writing (b) had two 邑 “village” on both side of 共, signifying the same as (a). These two ten style writings, (a) and (b), were shared by another kanji 巷 /chimata/. The kanji 巷 is not a Joyo-kanji but the word /chimata/ means “crowded town.” It is used in a phrase such as 巷の噂では (“according to a rumor in town” /chimata-no-uwasa-de’wa/), quoting irresponsive, most likely an unfounded, rumor. Writing (c) had water on the left side and writing (a) on the right side, and it became the kanji shape 港. Together they meant a waterfront where many people come, which is a port. The kun-yomi 港 /minato/ means “port.” The on-yomi /ko’o/ is in 空港 (“airport” /kuukoo/) and 漁港 (“fishing port” /gyokoo/.)

  1. The kanji 選 “to select”

History選It has been a while since we looked at the kanji 選 [September 26, 2014, post] in connection with the meaning of 共. Let us revisit this kanji, focusing on the two little 己 above 共 this time. In both bronze ware style and ten style, two people were putting their hands on their knees, which were bent. They also had a footprint and a cross road even though the placement was different — side by side, in bronze ware style; and at top and the bottom, in ten style. From select people doing votive dancing on a stage for the god to see, it meant “to select.”

Well, we have seen quite a lot of shapes that came from a posture that a person made using the whole body. I feel I ought to make a table of those shapes so that we can review them. It is time for us to move to another topic for now. [April 26, 2015.]