The Marvellously Entertaining World of Kanjis

Clicking through some stuff this morning, I stumbled upon somebody’s account of life in China, and in particular, a funny observation about hanzis:

Turning now to Chinese characters: We are learning them again at last, and many make me pleased. The character for “to endure” is a knife held to a heart. A tomb is required to draw “antique.” There are other things, too, of course: the local glyphic idea of “peace” is a woman in a house, while that of “family” is a pig in a house. This surely explains either less or more than it purports to.

Like most people, I too struggle to give more or less apocryphal interpretations to kanjis in order to make them more memorable. Some of my findings are quite far-fetched. Yet, this particular set never occurred to me before (as usual: mouse-over to get kanji pronunciation and meaning):

  • 忍, as in 忍ぶ, is made of and
  • A woman () under a “roof” (宀), becomes … Though in japanese, the 安 character doesn’t really hold the meaning of “peace” as in “war and peace” (usually written 平和), but rather a “spiritual, inner, peace” (安心). Interestingly, it is frequently used to indicate “cheapness” or “easiness” (安い).
  • A “pig” () under a “roof” (宀), becomes a “house” () and by extension: a “family” (家族).

Funny how the semantic oddity has been perfectly preserved in the transition from Chinese to Japanese (commonplace, indeed, but certainly not the all-encompassing rule).

Of course, there are hundred of these observations to be made, and I could probably come up with stories for nearly every kanji I know, but to stay with the farm theme, there is this one classic I really can’t get over:

Japanese kanji for “beauty” () is none other than a combination of “big” () and “sheep” (): makes way for all sorts of weird thought processes when a friend points out a 美人 in the street…


  1. Woa… damn me: It’s all my fault… Obscure encoding issues combined with a hurried upgrade of WP this morning… forgot to re-apply the necessary changes to the code.
    It should be all fine now.
    Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Dr Dave, y hv done a good work in this website, i just read it by today,
    although i am a chinese Malaysia, my parent come from mainland china
    , so born in the chinese family, we all MUST learn and read and
    chinese beside study english and Bahasa since i was young, i speak Hokkian, Hakka, understand cantonese, and some other chinese dialets.
    For learning, reading, writing chinese Mandarin, i will assure you to
    Mandarin is fun and great!
    never regret knowing another extra language, because people are
    interesting, their culture, thier thinking, their food.

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