This lesson completes a series of three lessons looking at four-stroke core kanji. Of the eight core kanji we will meet in this lesson (listed below), only the first three (‘lack’, ‘beforehand’ and ‘measuring cup’) will be important in terms of making new kanji accessible to us. The last five kanji in this series do not give us access to any new kanji for now, but ‘circle’ (which also refers to the unit of Japanese currency, the Yen) is a common kanji in its own right.
斗 measuring cup
丑 sign of the cow
#383. The etymologists tell us that this kanji began as a pictograph of a man kneeling down, gasping for breath (‘lacking’ breath), which lead to the related meaning of ‘yawn’. This is most apparent in the archaic form shown on the right.
To me, it more likes a man on the dance floor, arms flailing around because he lacks inhibitions. I also tend to imagine that he lacks skill and lacks an audience.
#384. The first place we tried lacked ice, so we had to go the next.
#385. My doll lacks a mouth, so it cannot blow.
#386. You might think that you cannot cook if you lack fire, but the Japanese seem happy to eat fish raw.
#387. This kanji means briar, as in a briar bush, or any thorny plant.
Don’t let a briar bush grow next (次) to a grassy patch.
#388. Next and woman. Think of this as a sexist version of ‘the grass is always greener…’
The next woman always has a better figure.
#389. Most people learn this as a modified version of ‘halberd’ (see below), because it is halberd minus one stroke: Beforehand, this was a halberd, but I cut it short.
The upper part resembles ‘ma’ (マ) and the lower part resembles ‘street’ (丁), so another approach is to remember it as ‘Ma street’. Imagine a tough guy defending his street…
What, you didn’t know it was ma street? You shoulda thought of that beforehand. I’m close to getting my halberd…
#390. The halberd was medieval weapon combining a spear point and an axe blade. This kanji has an axe-like triangle and various points, so it cold be envisaged as a halberd – but in the end it might be better to memorise the strokes as an arbitrary sequence. Although a halberd was a European weapon, one translation of this kanji is ‘long-handled Chinese spear; lance; pike’, so the keyword is reasonably close to one meaning of the kanji.
Image from Wikpedia Halberd entry
If you know your katakana, this resembles ‘ma’ + ‘o’ (マオ). So just imagine Mao Zedong carrying a halberd.
#391. This kanji means ‘tender’ in the sense of weak, gentle, soft – but imagine bailing up your medieval foe against a tree and tenderising him with the point of your halberd.
斗 measuring cup
#392. You might have notcied that this kanji looks nothing like a cup, much less a measuring cup, but if you squint, turn your head, and hyperventilate a little, you could see it as a close up of a cup, with the two short strokes representing the measuring ticks on the side of the cup.
#393. Not a great pictograph, but it makes more sense if you consider the boxy shape of an ancient Japanese well…
#394. The rotational symmetry of this shape reminds me of the numeral ’69’ and shows the upper and lower halves of the kanji mutually arranged around each other.
丑 sign of the cow
#395. If you know what a stanchion is, this could be pictograph of a stanchion… If not, see it as 77 cows standing behind a fence.
#396. A pictograph of an aerial view of some furry creature, the curved tail at the bottom.
#397. This kanji refers to any circular, round object, but also specifically refers to the Japanese currency (pronounced ‘en’ in Japanese, but usually Westernised to ‘yen’). Try to see the kanji as a pictograph of a money lending stall, where you might get hold of some yen coins.