Character simplification trivia

"Shibuya" is written 渋谷 in kanji. That first kanji is actually simplified; it was originally 澁. Here's a close-up:

澁 → 渋

At first glance, it strikes some people (hi L.!) as odd that the simplified part should still end up so fiddly. Why a four-stroke pattern instead of just a cross? What's the point of simplifying characters if you're going to choke halfway?

The explanation isn't too complicated, but let me rewind a bit. A lot of characters were simplified by applying global rules of the form:

Xcomplex + c

Xsimple + c

For example:

XcomplexXsimpleOld charactersSimplified characters
佛, 拂仏, 払
糸言糸戀, 灣恋, 湾

But 渋 is in a class of characters which were simplified by a subtly different kind of rule. A couple more examples from the same class should make it obvious what the rule is:

攝 → 摂
壘 → 塁

Yep: it means "add two of what's above", or:

Xtop + 2Xbottom + c

Xtop + 4-stroke pattern + c

(But see footnote*.) The four-stroke pattern itself is actually a stylized way of writing two odoriji ("repeat" signs), and is quite venerable in its own right. For example, characters like 蟲 and 轟 didn't get officially simplified (UPDATE: 蟲 totally did get simplified, to 虫. See comments!), probably due to their rarity, but in old-school handwriting they often got the four-stroke treatment.

Anyway, keeping parts like the bottom of 渋 four unconnected strokes instead of a unified cross was probably driven, consciously or otherwise, by a desire to indicate its divisibility into two equivalent elements. And now you know... the rest of the story.

Bonus puzzle: Name the other, very common, simplification that means (among other things) "two of anything, side by side."

* Common exception: the 品 in 區 always gets simplified as a group to 区 (鷗外 → 鴎外, 毆る → 殴る, etc.)

Popularity factor: 15


Actually, 蟲 got simplified to 虫 in the Tōyō kanji hyō (虫 apparently was the original form anyway: details here under "chóng")

PS. The new comment form me laisse entièrement mystifié.


I'm not sure if this is the one you're thinking of, but the three strokes atop 単, 労, 栄, 営 all replace pairs (a pair of 口 for 単, and 火 for the others). Or non-pairs, like 畄 (from 留). Or the three strokes in 脳 and 悩 or 猟 and 蝋 (from 腦, 惱, 獵, and 蠟). And of course, the three strokes also simplify the common component on top of 學 and 覺 (to 学 and 覚), and also the top portion of 擧 and 譽 (to 挙 and 誉).

P.S. Je conviens.


Anon-0: My god, you're right! How barbaric.

Andy: Yep, that was exactly what I was thinking of. Also note 櫻 → 桜 (but there are exceptions: 贊→賛 etc.). 畄→留 is an interesting case because AFAIK it is considered a "folk character" (俗字), not an official simplification. Dare I suggest that the reason is that it does not follow the algebraic rule? -- which, I argue, is "(XL + z? + XR) + c → (3-stroke pattern) + c", where XL and XR are horizontal mirror images of each other and z? is an optional throwaway element sandwiched between them.

(Note that this also would also explain many apparent exceptions to the "two of anything" phrasing, like 贊→賛 above: the two items aren't horizontally symmetrical, so they don't make the cut... Oh, uh, and I would consider the cases where "three wavy lines → three-stroke pattern" the work of a separate rule.)

One more: 米 can stand for "a 2×2 square of either (1) any X or (2) four quarters symmetrical around the center of the square." 齒→歯, 繼→継, 肅→粛...

P.S. C'est designé pour confuser des spambots, et donner aussi un touch du class à ce joint.


dang, I gotta request you up the font size. It's crazy hard to see these kanji


Hey, I gave you a close-up of 渋, what more could you want... (Actually, I recommend CTRL-+ and use it all the time myself.)

language hat:

Test comment to see if my info is remembered!

language hat:

It is not! I have to enter it each time!! Ô rage, ô désespoir!!!


Odoriji!?!?! Oh man, I have been searching for that word for YEARS. I mean, literally, I have spent over 10 years asking everyone what is the name for that little symbol, everyone from respected kanji scholars to native speakers, and nobody has ever been able to give me the real name.And now, I am quite satisfied with this poetic little term. Odoriji, the little character that dances. I presume it is doing a two-step.


Hat: It's character-building! And I hate cookies.

Charles: Glad I could help! It took me a while to find out what they were called too.


While we're on the subject, perhaps you can identify my other mystery moji, it surely has a name but nobody seems to know it. There's a little stylized symbol, a hooked line with a loop, it is traditionally written over the sealed flap of an envelope. It's not really a kanji, but I have seen it in the symbol section of the JIS characters. Any ideas? I could probably find a graphic example if this wasn't clear enough.


Yeah that's what I had to resort to the first time I viewed this. But that jacks up everything don't you agree?


Charles, you're talking about 〆 right? I think it's called shime.


Yes Andreas, that is it. Do you know anything else about it? Like I said, I've seen it used as a "seal" character over the flap of an envelope, but I don't know if it has any other functions. Surely it must.Anyway, to return to the overall theme of this topic, this is what constantly intrigues me about studying kanji. No matter how much you know, there are always new levels of strange orthographic rules. Maybe you've used these rules without understanding them, like in the odoriji in the kanji like in Shibuya. But then when you learn the rule, you suddenly have what I call a "forehead-slapping moment" and you say to yourself "oh! So THAT was what was going on." I have similar moments when I learn even simple things like the terms "shime" and "odoriji" that have escaped me for so long, so I beg your indulgence with my silly questions.


Thanks Andreas! Don't worry, Charles, there are no silly questions... You can also use 〆 to write 〆切 (shimekiri, as in deadline), usually in bullet-point lists and similar shorthandy contexts.


〆 is also used to indicate locked (unusable) doors/gates, screaming "hey I'm locked, don't even try it"

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