Chinese characters – week 7 (犬, 竹, 笑, 心, 您, 亡 and 忙)


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I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas and New Year. Apologies for the delay in writing this, but I took a bit of an extended break for the holiday period to work on another project I started. Now that we’re back to “class”, I want to start off this week with another character that looks like 大. This character is 犬 ( quǎn ), which means “dog”.

The character is supposedly derived from a pictorial depiction of a dog, and one of the ancient forms certainly show the form of the “dog” or “beast” radical, 犭 (also quǎn ). Personally I wouldn’t spend a long time trying to work out how it even looks like a dog – just remember it: it’s only 4 strokes after all. BUT do remember where the “dot” goes in relation to the character 大 because depending on where you put the dot, you may end up with 太 ( tài ), which us often used as “too”, in the sense of “too much”. For example, 太大 means “too big”.

The next character for today is 竹 ( zhú ), which means “bamboo”. The “bamboo” radical also looks very similar to the full character, which should help with remembering it.

The character for 竹 derived from a pictorial depiction of two bamboo plants.

The third character for this week is 笑 ( xiào ), which is currently written as the bamboo radical on top of 夭, meaning tender (we discussed this character in week 6). The character 笑 means to laugh.

I have read that one way people remember this character is to think of young and tender (夭) bamboo (竹) blowing in the wind bends and sways like someone laughing. Another way which I have read is that wind blowing through the young and tender bamboo of a bamboo grove sounds like laughter. Those mnemonics are probably easier than the real origin of the character.

The original form of this character replaced 夭 with 犬, making the character look like 𥬇. It meant laughter because… well, have you ever seen a dog that thought it could read before? The bamboo radical was used to symbolise written text because in the days of old before paper, we used bamboo scrolls as books.

The next character this week is 心 ( xīn ), which means “heart”. The original of this character is a pictorial depiction of a heart. Not in the sense of a “love heart”, but the shape of the actual organ, which you can hopefully see below.

The radical which is associated with 心 is 忄. You will often see this radical, or even the actual character 心 used in characters associated with emotions and thoughts, as it was considered that any thoughts also came from the heart.

The fifth character this week is 您 ( nín ) which is used as the second person pronoun as an honorific. It is made up of 你 (we looked at this character in week 5) and 心. Usually 您 will be used when you want to highlight respect to the person to whom you are speaking, so for example a student to a teacher, a child to their parents, or even people that you have never met but want to be polite.

The sixth character this week is that of 亡 ( wáng ) meaning “to flee”, “to hide”, or “to die”. The character initially used to be written as 亾 or 兦, showing a person placing himself in a corner to hide.

The 人 of 入 aspect of the original character has now changed to the lid radical, 亠 ( tóu ).

The seventh character is 忙 ( máng ) which means “busy”. The eighth character this week is 忘 ( wàng ) which means “to forget”. Both these characters are made of up 亡 with a 心 radical, either using the character itself or 忄. In both these words, 亡 provides the phonetic element to the words where as 心 and 忄 provide the meaning.

In the case of 忙, being busy is a state of occupying one’s mind, and therefore following the ancient Chinese thinking that thoughts are carried out with the heart, you have the heart radical showing that it is something to do with thoughts: to indicate meaning.

In the case of 忘, again 亡 provides the phonetic element, with the 心 radical (being the actual character this time) providing the meaning behind 忘. One way to possibly remember this character is that if you let something die (亡) within your heart (心), then it’s to forget it (忘).