Protecting what?

I’ve been reading a Chinese novel titled 駱駝祥子 by 老舍. It’s been a while since I’ve read Chinese, but it’s also been a while since I’ve thought about Chinese etymology. While I was reading, a word popped out at me, and I realized I never wrote about it. The word is 护(s), 護(t), (hu4), which means “to protect.” I will reference two previous posts which will explain some concepts that I’ve written about before. “What is love?” talks about how when the Chinese Communist Party simplified the Chinese characters, they also changed the etymological structures of the words. “Pitiable Fish Scales” talks about how the sound component of the word can also provide meaning.

One of the first things you will notice is that the simplified version and the traditional version of this character don’t have any shared radicals. In fact, they are completely different words, etymologically. Let me explain what this means, and we will start with the traditional, then the simplified.

護 (hu4)
| __
言   |
蒦 (huo4)
| __
又   |
雈 (huan2) Continue reading Protecting what?

Body and Form

When I was a kid learning Chinese, there were many similar looking words that often confused me. One pair was 体 vs 休. They look very similar, don’t they? One has a horizontal line on the bottom and the other doesn’t. 休 (xiū) means to rest.xiu1is a pictogram of a personperson version 1, (person version 2is more abstract version) leaning against a treetree. Doesn’t that just sound relaxing? 休 is not simplified, but 体 (tǐ), which means body or form, is.

體 is the traditional way of writing 体. You look at it and wonder, “How are they the same word?” As I have written before, the simplified form of the character isn’t completely random. There is reasoning behind the simplification. But you lose the original etymology with the switch. So let’s dig into the etymology of 體 and see what we can find.
Continue reading Body and Form

The Meaning of Anger

I started a Chinese etymology blog about 2 years ago. Today, I finally imported the posts to this website. So check it out if you’re interested. You’ll find it in the category section.

Here’s another word I want to talk about. It’s the word anger: 怒 (nù). This word can be broken down without looking at the ancient scripts.

It’s broken by top and bottom, and then from the top part, left and right.
怒, nù
—奴, nú
—–女, nǘ
—–又, yòu
—心, xīn
Continue reading The Meaning of Anger

Pitiable Fish Scales

In my Chinese language education, I found out somewhere along the way that there was logic behind the characters. I didn’t quite understand where the logic was, and one concept that I had a hard time understanding was the idea that in some words, there was a phonetic component and a definitive component. Example: 妈 (mā, mother). My teacher would say that 女 (nǚ, woman) gave the definition, and the 马 (mǎ, horse) gave the word its sound. This sounded fine and all, but how did a horse and a woman mean mother?

I will try to offer some explanations. First, we can find the relative age of the words from this character. What do I mean by that? From the construction of 妈, we know that 女 and 马 are older characters than 妈. It means that 妈 was created later. Why do I say that? 马 and 女 need to be already in use before someone could take them and put them together to form 妈.
Continue reading Pitiable Fish Scales

But they look the same…

In this entry, I just want to give some examples of words that were once different, but after simplification, now look the same. This makes certain words a little trickier, but for people more familiar with the language, the context really eliminates most of the confusion. I will give two examples.

First: 发
Before the simplification, there was 髮 and 發. They both became 发. The pronuciation for 髮 is fà, which means hair and 發 is pronounced fā, which has many meanings, one of which means to sent outward. In simplified, you can’t tell right away which way to pronounce it. Only given word combinations like 头发 (tóufà, hair) or 发射 (fāshè, to radiate) can you know which meaning 发 takes on.

Second: 只
This one’s a little different. The previous, both words were changed. In context to 只, it already exists as a word, but another word was simplified to it. The two words are 只 (zhǐ, only) and 隻 (zhī, a counting unit for animals). 隻 was simplified to 只. Context is the only way now to tell which 只 the writer means:只有 (zhǐyǒu, there is only…), 一只狗 (yìzhīgǒu, a dog). The pronunciation is different so there is no problem differentiating between these words when speaking. Only when it’s written without context that it creates some confusion.
Continue reading But they look the same…

What is love?

When I went onto the etymology website, many of the words were explained by the webmaster. Many of them made sense, but some didn’t have any explanations at all. Sometimes in life, something needs to get you going, something needs to get you started, and this word opened up the puzzle for me. It allowed me to look deep into the words and see for the first time what people thought, how thought was constructed and represented visually. This word unlocked the mystery of Chinese for me. By chance, this word is the word for love. 愛(T), 爱(S), ài, pronounced like “I”, is the Chinese word for love. You can probably see this word tattooed on people’s necks or arms or anywhere. It’s a beautiful word.aiis how the character looks is seal script. The website doesn’t give any explanations, but there has to be. Continue reading What is love?

How does that look like a hand?

I studied Latin in high school, so I learned all about where certain words came from and how it’s used differently in English as compared to the Latin. And every time I search a definition for a word, the website or dictionary tells me where the word comes from. Then I asked myself, “Where did the Chinese words come from?” I know that certain words are loan words such as “sha-fa” for sofa, (the Chinese characters meaning “sand hair”), but where did those supposed pictures come from? Somebody must have doodled in some sand and said, “That looks like a something, so it means this.”

I googled “Chinese etymology” and came up with two useful websites. One is which is nice. It tells you the etymology but using the limits of the characters of Unihan, which is the collection of all the standardized Chinese, Korean, Japanese words available on a computer . But when it says 又 looks like a right hand, I just don’t see it. So I went to another website.
Continue reading How does that look like a hand?