Friday, August 26, 2005

How does "snot" come from 泗(사)?

The Chinese character 泗 has two meanings. One is a "name used for water," and the other is "snot." The character is a combination of "water," 氵(수) and the number "four," 四(사). Though I could understand why the character for water would be used in a character for "snot," I could not understand why "four" would be used, so I decided to research it. Here is what I found out.

Up until sometime about the "Warring States" period, the Chinese character for "four" was four stacked horizontal lines, but because it was often confused with the character for "three," 三(삼), the Chinese started using 四(사) to represent "four." Originally, 四 represented "breath coming out of a nose," but over time that meaning disappeared leaving only the meaning for "four." Therefore, if we think of 四 as a nose and combine it with water, 氵, we get "snot," 泗.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The story of the lying sheep

There is a Chinese character that is written as 詳(상), which means "detailed." The character is a combination of two other characters, 言(언), which means "talk," and 羊(양), which means "sheep." The combination of the characters seems to be referring to "a talking sheep," but what does a talking sheep have to do with the meaning "detailed"? I have no idea, but after a little research, I have found another meaning for 詳 that makes a little more sense to me.

The character 詳 actually has two pronunciations, 상 and 양. The 상 pronunciation carries the meaning "detailed," as I meantioned above, but the 양 pronunciation carries the meaning "lie," as in 거짓말. Though I cannot think of any example where the 양 pronunciation is used, I remember hearing a story a long time ago that may explain why the 詳 character also has the meaning of "lie." However, the story I heard did not take place in China, but somewhere in the United States during the Old West, when indians still roamed the plains.

Here is the story:

A cowboy rides into an indian village after crossing the desert. He and his horse are thirsty. The cowboy rides up to a teepee, where an old indian is sitting out in front with a horse, a dog, and a sheep. The cowboy stops and asks the old indian if he can get a drink of water at his well. The old indian nods his head, "yes."

While the cowboy is drinking, he looks over at the dog lying behind the old indian and asks the indian, "Do you mind if I talk to your dog?"

The old indian replies, "Dog no talk."

Ignoring the indian, the cowboy looks at the dog and asks, "How are ya?"

The dog answers, "Fine."

The indian is shocked because he had never heard his dog talk before.

The cowboy then asks the dog, "How does your master treat you?"

The dog replies, "He is good to me. He feeds me everyday, and lets me sleep in the teepee when it rains. He even takes me down to the river to play sometimes."

The old indian is amazed. He can hardly believe that he had been living with a talking dog all these years.

Then the cowboy looks at the old indian and asks, "Do you mind if I talk to your horse?"

The old indian replies, "Horse no talk."

The cowboy looks at the horse and says, "Howdy?" The horse also replies with "howdy."

Again, the old indian is amazed to hear his horse talk.

The cowboy asks the horse, "How does your master treat you?"

The horse replies, "He is very good to me. He only rides me two or three times a week, and he always wipes me down afterwards. Every morning he takes me to a nearby field where the grass is especially tasty. Yes, he is very good to me."

The old indian is flabbergasted because he never knew that he had a talking horse.

Then the cowboy looks at the old indian and asks, "Mind if I talk to your sheep?"

The old indian sits up straight, folds his arms across his chest, and says in a very clear, stern voice, "Sheep lie."

How about using 姓 to replace 産?

If you have ever wondered why the Chinese are known for being inscrutable, then pay attention because I am about to give you an example.

The Chinese character for "birth" is 産(산). It is a composite of two characters, 生(생) and the abbreviated version of 彦(언). 生 means "birth" or "life," which makes it a logical choice for one of the composite elements, but why in the heck did the Chinese decide to use 彦 for the other composite element?

彦(언) means "a (classical) scholar" or "a learned man." Putting 生 beneath 彦 would seem to imply that a learned man is capable of giving birth. However, no matter how learned a man may be, he cannot give birth, not even a man without whiskers, 彡(삼). Therefore, I think we need to consider replacing this absurd, unnatural character with one that makes more sense. Here is my suggestion.

姓(성) would be the perfect replacement for 産 since it is composed of 女(여), which means "woman," and 生(생), which means "life" or "birth." The combination would imply that a "woman gives birth," which is absolutely true. I cannot think of a better replacement for 産.

Not only is 姓 the logically choice to carry the meaning, "give birth," it would give us an opportunity to find a more logical choice to carry the current meaning of 姓, which is "family name." Afterall, what relationship does "woman" and "life" have with "family name"? When a woman gives birth, doesn't the child usually get the father's family name, not the mother's?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What does the "주" in 재주 mean?

I know that 재주 means, "talent" or "ability." (Here is the Naver dictionary definition of 재주.) What I do not know is why the 주 was added to 재(才)?

재(才) and 재주 mean the same thing, so why is the 주 needed? Regardless of what the Naver dictionary may say, the 주 of 재주 has no Chinese character orgin that I know of, and I have found no pure Korean word or suffix that might explain it. It just seems to be acting as a filler.

Was 주 added to distinguish 재(才) from other 재's, such as 재(財), which means "property"? For example, without 주 we would not know if 재가 있는 사람 means "a man of talent" or "a man of property." However, when we talk about "a man of property," we normally say 재산 있는 사람, so we could say 재(才)가 있는 사람 without causing any confusion.

Maybe 재주 was originally a pure Korean word, and someone back in history just decided to spice up the word by replacing the pure Korean 재 with the Chinese character 재(才)?

I am not going to answer my question because I do not know the answer; I just wanted to pose it.

Does anyone know of any other examples of a non-Chinese-character 주 being attached to other Chinese characters?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

What does 지족(知足)하다 mean?

지족(知足) means "contentment," but when I first saw the Chinese characters for this word, I could not understand how "contentment" could be achieved by "knowing one's foot" (知 means "know," and 足 means "foot"). After doing a little research, however, I found that besides meaning "foot," 足(족) can also mean "enough," "sufficient," or "plenty." Therefore, 지족(知足)하다 literally means, "know enough."

It seems that people can find contentment when they know their place in life and are satisfied with what they have.

Of course, none of this explains why the Chinese character for "foot" is also used to mean "enough"?