The magic of Chinese characters


A sample of the first three pages of the English translation of my book on Chinese characters

nperson, human being adult each.  This is a pictogram of a person standing, with legs separated. Person > kind of person > every > other. It is one of the more frequently used characters. When it forms part of other characters it is simplified as 亻, a radical found in about 500 characters.

人民    rénmínthe people (person + people)

人才    réncáia person of talent.

rènknow, recognize accept admit. S. 認: Words 讠 recognizing one’s fault, showing that the subject is ready to endure (忍 less. 27) punishment. Now it represents the words 讠 of a person人 admitting he is guilty. 认识rènshi know, recognize; 认为 rènwéi think, consider.

shǎnget out of the way flash twist, shine lightning. A person 人 looks a moment from the door 门 and hides again, maybe a thief or a spy. Flash > sudden > appear > lightning (suddenly flash). 闪电 shǎndiàn lightning; 闪光shǎnguāng flicker, sparkle.

zèoblique, slanting narrow.  Originally a person 人with a slanting head (a character not used anymore, pronounced zhe), leaning on a cliff 厂, makes an oblique line. Narrow is the path that a person walks along a cliff. 逼仄 bīzè narrowed.  

zèthe sun in the west post meridian.  The sun日 going down reaches the height of a (slanting 仄) person.

duìgroup, team row, line. In OBC it was a pictogram of a person 人 (later replaced by a pig 㒸 suì phonetic) upside down and falling from a mountain 阝. The original meaning was ‘fall down’, later it was lent to ‘row’, as people walk in a row to avoid fall down from a mountain. It recovers its original meaning adding earth 土 in 坠 (see next). A row of people > team, group > contingent of soldiers. 排队 páiduì queue up.

zhuìfall, drop weight down a hanging object. 坠落 zhuìluò. A person 人who falls down to earth土from the height of a mountain 阝.  

qiúimprison prisoner.  A person 人 imprisoned in an enclosure 口.

囚犯    qiúfànprisoner, convict.

囚禁    qiújìnimprison.

qiúswim. 泅水 qiúshuǐ. In OBC it was a pictogram of a child in a river, swimming. Now, to be encircled囚 by water 氵 forces one to swim.

enter; join agree with income. Pictogram of an arrow’s tip that enters its target. It is remembered as a person 人 who bows his head as he enters a place.

入口    rùkǒuentrance (enter + mouth)

加入    jiārùadd (add + enter, join)

cuān – quick boil.  To put something inside 入  boiling water 水. 

iinside inner. A person enters 入 (phonetic) a space冂; he is inside. 冂 space, not used alone, is the pictogram of a defined space.

内衣    nèiyī underwear (inside + clothes)

内容    nèiróngcontent (inside + contain)

receive, admit accept enjoy pay. 收纳 shōunà. To put silk 纟 inside 内 a house. Receive > accept > pay (other accepts).

nà, nèshout.  呐喊 nàhǎn. A shout comes from inside 内 the mouth 口.

sodium.  Mineral 钅 with the sound “Na.” 

patch up patchwork clothes worn by Buddhist monks. To put pieces of cloth 衤 inside 内 the clothes.  老衲 lǎonà old Buddhist monk.

slow talking stammer. It seems that words 讠 remain inside 内 the mouth.  木讷mùnè simple and slow of words.

ruìtenon. A piece of wood 木 that is inserted inside 内 another piece. 枘凿ruìzáo  compatible.

ròuflesh, meat pulp, flesh. This is the pictogram of a chunk of meat with its veins and nerves. It is the inside 内 of a person 人.  When it forms part of other characters it is abbreviated as月: an outline of the trunk with some ribs.

牛肉    niúròubeef (ox + meat)

猪肉    zhūròupork (pig + meat)

càofuck (vulg.) Literally ‘enter 入meat 肉’. Meat located between the man’s legs.

a moment, instant. Pictogram of two hands at either side of a person人 (clearly seen in the OBC pictogram), suggesting he is catching something or working in the field. Loan to ‘moment’ perhaps for the short time needed to catch something. 

须臾    xūyúa moment (a moment + a moment)

fertile fat. 丰腴fēngyú. Fat is the body 月 of the person whose hands臾 catch an abundant harvest. Fat animals > fertile fields.  

yǔ granary, store place. A building 广 to store the plants gathered 臾.

yǔstarve (in prison). 瘐死 yǔsǐ. Sickness 疒 suffered when one can’t get food 臾.  

yǔstack of grain. The measure 斗 of the grain harvested 臾.  

characters hsk

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