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 復腹複覆履良郎朗浪廊 – Food (7)  


In the last post we explored the kanji that originated from a tool to measure or handle grain and food, and saw that there were surprisingly many different shapes — 量斗升 and possibly 両, and other kanji that contain those components. In this post, we are going to add a couple more to the list – the right side of 復 and 良.

  1. The kanji 復 “to repeat; return way; again”

History of Kanji 復For the kanji 復, (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, had a cylindrical shape with a small end at the top and the bottom. This was an apparatus which one flipped up and down repeatedly in measuring grain. Underneath it was “a backward foot,”(夂) signifying “a return.” They meant “a repeated motion of going back-and-forth.” In bronze ware style (b) and (c), in green, “a crossroad” (彳) and “a hand” at the bottom were added. In (c) another “forward-facing footprint” is also seen to emphasize a repeated action of “going” and “coming” (by a backward footprint.) In (d) in seal style, in red, a forward-facing footprint was dropped. In kanji the two rounds that signified “a repeat” was changed to 日. The kanji 復 means “to repeat; return way; again.”  <the composition of the kanji 復: 彳, ノ,一, 日 and  夂>

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /huku/ is in 反復する (“to do something over again; iterative” /hanpuku-suru/), 復習 (“review study; brush up” /hukushuu/), 復元する (“to restore; reconstruct” /hukugen-suru/), 回復する (“to recover” /kaihuku-suru/) and  往復する (“to go and return” /oohuku-suru/) and 復路 (“return trip” /hu’kuro/).

  1. The kanji 腹 “abdomen; belly; middle”

History of Kanji 腹For the kanji 腹, in oracle bone style and in bronze ware style it had “a measuring tool with a thick middle,” which was (a) in oracle bone style 腹 above. With “a backward footprint” together they were used phonetically for /huku/ and signify a repeated action. To this component “a person” was added on the right. In 3 in seal style “a person” was replaced by 月, a bushu nikuzuki “flesh; a part of a body.” The part of one’s body that is thick is one’s abdomen. It meant “abdomen.” The kanji 腹 means “abdomen; belly; middle.”  <the composition of the kanji 腹: 月 and the right side of 復>

The kun-yomi お腹 /onaka/ means “stomach.” Another kun-yomi /hara’/ is in 腹ぺこ (“hungry; starving” /harapeko/) in casual style, 腹ごしらえする (“to have a meal before starting work; to fortify oneself with a meal before going” /harago’shirae-suru/), 腹芸 (“subtle communication using one’s personality” /haragee/), 腹いせをする(“to get back at someone; get one’s revenge” /haraise-o-suru/). The on-yomi /huku/ is in 空腹 (“to behungry” /kuuhuku/), and /-puku/ is in 満腹になる (“to become full” /manpuku-ni-na’ru/) and 切腹 (“seppuku; hara-kiri” /seppuku/).

  1. The kanji 複 “to duplicate; copy; complex”

History of Kanji 複For the kanji 複, the seal style writing comprised 衣 “collar,” signifying “something in a fold,” and the right side of 復 meaning “to repeat,” which was used phonetically for /huku/. Together they ­meant “to duplicate.” In kanji the left became 衤, a bushu koromohen “clothing.” The kanji 複 meant “to duplicate; copy” and also “complex.”   <the composition of the kanji 複: 衤 and the right side of 復>

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /huku/ is in 複製 (“duplicate; copy” /hukusee/), 複雑な (“complex” /hukuzatsu-na/) and 複層 (“double layers” /hukusoo/).

  1. The kanji 覆 “to cover; overturn; flip over”

History of Kanji 覆For the kanji 覆, the top of the seal style writing, 襾, was “a cover on an opening with the stopper in the middle.” The bottom 復 originally meant “to flip over a measuring apparatus,” and was used phonetically for /huku/. In kanji the top became 覀. Together they meant “to overturn; cover.” The kanji 覆 means “to cover; overturn; flip over.” <the composition of the kanji 覆: 覀 and 復>

The kun-yomi 覆う /oou/ means “to cover; wprad over; wrap,” and is in 日覆い (“sun shade; sun shield” /hio’oi/). Another kun-yomi 覆す /kutsuga’esu/ (and its intransitive verb 覆る /kutsuga’eru/)  means “to reverse; overthrow; turn over.” The on-yomi /huku/ is in 覆面 (“a mask to conceal one’s face” /hukumen/).  /-Puku/ is in 転覆 (“upset; overturn” /tenpuku/).

  1. The kanji 履 “clogs; to put on footwear; to perform; carry out”

History of Kanji 履The kanji 履 contains 復. However, it came from a very different origin. (a) in bronze ware style had “a leg” and “a person with a formal hat.” (b) in bronze ware style and (c) in Old style, in purple, had “a boat shape footwear” (signifying “to transport”) and “a person; head” (頁). Together they meant “one goes forward with footwear on” or “to perform.” In seal style (d) was replaced by 復 under 尸, a bushu shikabane. The kanji 履 means “clogs; to put on footwear; to perform; carry out.” <the composition of the kanji 履: 尸 and 復>

The kun-yomi 履く /haku/ means “to wear clothes by putting legs through, such as trousers, pants, shoes, skirt, etc.,” and is in 履物 (“footwear; foot gear” /haki’mono/), 上履き (“slippers” /uwabaki/). The on-yomi /ri/ is in 草履 (“Japanese sandal-style footwear for kimono” /zoori/), ゴム草履 (“flip-flops” /gomuzo’ori/), 履行する (“to execute; carry out” /rikoo-suru/) and 契約の不履行 (“non-fulfilment of a contract; a beach of agreement” /keeyaku-huri’koo/).

  1. The kanji 良 “good; excellent; true”

History of Kanji 良For the kanji 良 (a) in oracle bone style, (b) and (c) in bronze ware style was “an apparatus to select good grains”– The top was the opening to pour grain in and to blow air through to remove bad grains, and good ones were taken out from the bottom. (d) in seal style still retained that meaning in its shape, but in kanji there is little remnant to tell us its history. The kanji 良 meant “good; excellent; true.”

The kun-yomi 良い /yo‘i/ means “good,” and is in 仲良し (“good friend” /naka’yoshi/). The on-yomi /ryoo/ is in 改良する (“to improve” /kairyoo-suru/), 不良品 (“defective product” /huryoohin/), 優良な (“excellent; fine” /yuuryoo-na/), 良心 (“conscience” /ryo’shin/) and 良縁 (“suitable candidate for marriage” /ryooen/).

  1. The kanji 郎 “man”

History of Kanji 郎For the kanji 郎 in seal style it comprised 良, which was used phonetically for /roo/, and 邑 “town; village,” which became 阝, a bushu oozato. It was originally the name of a town. 郎 was used to mean a government official, and it came to be used in a male name. The kyuji 郞, in blue, had 良 on the left, which became simplified by dropping a stroke in shinji. The kanji 郎 means “man.”  <the composition of the kanji 郎: 良 without the 6th stroke and 阝>

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /roo/ is used in a male name, such as 太郎, 一郎 (both “the first son”), 次郎, 二郎 (“the second son”) and 三郎 (“the third son”, etc. It is in 一族郎党 (“one’s whole clan” /ichi’zoku rootoo/) and 馬鹿野郎 (“fool; idiot” as a cursing word used by angry male speakers /bakayaro’o/).

  1. The kanji 朗 “cheerful; lively”

History of Kanji 朗For the kanji 朗 in seal style it comprised 月 “moon,” signifying “bright light of a moon,” and 良 “good,” which was used phonetically for /roo/. Together they meant “clear and bright.” In the kyuji 朗, 2, the positions of the two components were swapped. In shinji 良 was simplified in shinji by dropping a stroke. The kanji 朗 means “cheerful; lively.”  <the composition of the kanji 朗: 良 without the 6th stroke and 月>

The kun-yomi 朗らかな /hoga’raka/ means “merry; cheerful.” The on-yomi /roo/ is in 明朗な “bright; cheerful” /meeroo-na/).

  1. The kanji 浪 “wave; drift; waste”

History of Kanji 浪For the kanji 浪, the seal style writing comprised “water” and 良, which was used phonetically for /roo/. Together they were used as the name of a river. The right side 良 originated from an apparatus of selecting good grains in which grains were shaken and moved about, like “waves.” The kanji 浪 was borrowed to mean “wave; drift; waste.”  <the composition of the kanji 浪: 氵 and 良>

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /roo/ is in 浪人 (“unemployed samurai” /roonin/) and 浪人する (to study for an entrance exam for a year to try again” /roonin-suru/), 浪士 (“lordless samurai” /ro’oshi/), 放浪する (“to roam; wander about” /hooroo-suru/) and 放浪者 (“wandering tramp” /hooro’osha/).

  1. The kanji 廊 “corridor; walkway”

History of Kanji 廊For the kanji 廊 the seal style writing had 广 a bushu madare “the eaves of a house; canopy.” Underneath was 郞 “government official,” which was used phonetically for /roo/. Officials conducted business there. The kanji 廊 means “corridor; walkway.”  <the composition of the kanji: 广 and 郎 >

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /roo/ is in 廊下 (“hallway; space between rooms inside a house” 回廊 (“veranda; corridor” /kairoo/).

The kanji we looked at in this and last postings were either from a measuring apparatus or a ladle that was used for measuring. In some kanji they were used simply as a phonetic feature and bore little relevance to its original meaning. That is the way a large number of kanji were created as keisei moji (形声文字) “semantic-phonetic writing.”  Before I take a month’s break from posting in October and November, I shall try to post one more article next week, probably on kanji that contain 皿.  Thank you very much for your reading.  -Noriko [September 30, 2017]