Thursday, August 18, 2005

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?


  1. However, no matter how learned a man may be, he cannot give birth, not even a man without whiskers, 彡(삼).

    You seem to have fallen asleep during 사자소학 시간. Take a gander at the first couple of lines. ^^

    On a more serous note, though, the idea that Chinese characters are ideographs that are combined to form more complex ideographs was the subject of a heated debate between sinologists Peter Boodberg and Herrlee Creel mostly in the pages of T'oung Pao last century. The ideograph theory is nonsense.

  2. 父生我身(부생아신)

    My father gives me birth;
    My mother raises me.

    Thanks. Taemin.

    So Chinese men do give birth! Very interesting. That makes me wonder about the Chinese concept of 生?

    Concerning the study of 4-character Chinese phrases, I am only now reaching the point where such phrases interest me. Before now, I have been too busy just trying to learn the individual characters to pay much attention. By the way, can you explain the usage of 我(아) and 吾(오) in the two phrases above? I understand that they are both used as first-person pronouns (I, me, etc.), but why is 我(아) used in the first phrase and 吾(오) in the second? I have a book that explains 한문(漢文), but I have not yet been able to find the explanation.

    Concerning the Chinese character ideograph debate, I do not know enough to take one side or the other. I use the concept of ideographs and their combinations to help me remember the characters. My comments are mainly tongue-in-cheek and designed to help me organize the characters in my twisted brain.

    Take care, Taemin. I hope to see more of your comments on this blog.

  3. By the way, here is a link to an interesting comment made by a poster on another site I maintain.

  4. Thank you for the kind words. I always found your blog thought-provoking and am glad to see the recent flurry of activity.

    There are grammars of classical Chinese that talk about differences between 吾 and 我, but in this case I think anything like that would be reading too much into the text. It's just used for variation while maintaining the parallelism.