弾 - bullets, bouncing, and plucking/flicking

Just an idle thought. I’ve been wondering about the etymology of the character (だん).

It can mean:

  • 銃弾(じゅうだん) • A bullet or ammunition

  • そろばんを(はじ)く • to flick or pick-at something (like a bead on an abacus)

  • ギーターを()く• to pluck a string or play a stringed musical instrument

  • (はず)み • to bounce or to gain (spring-like) momentum

None of these meanings seem to go together unless the etymology is somehow related to a bow and arrow, then it all kinda makes sense.

That’s just an idle theory on my part, though, I’ve not seen anything at all that would confirm this.

Does anybody know the history of this character?

Well, there’s a bow in the character, so that seems like a possibility. 単 alone expresses the idea of singleness, though I don’t know if that’s relevant.

Anyway, Kanjipedia says that it represents pulling back on a device meant for launching pebbles and causing the string to vibrate. The Chinese etymology site I like to use says that it originally represented a slingshot with a shot on the string, and referred to the slingshot or to the pellets it was used to shoot. I guess that’s linked to most of the use cases you mentioned?

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That was exactly my assumption — nice to see it confirmed!

I just looked up kanjipedia. Thanks for the reference.

What’s the Chinese etymology site you use? (I don’t speak a word so doubt I’ll be able to use it without help from my Chinese friends, but it might be worth a bookmark).

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This one:

I don’t know what exactly their sources are, but I like all the drawings and how those are often linked to meanings.

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