Kanji Etymology (origin of kanji)

I wish I found this resource sooner. It’s perfect supplement to Wanikani.
Etymological Dictionary of Han/Chinese Characters By Lawrence J. Howell

I’m mixing up some kanji during my reviews and I don’t know how to distinct 建 and 健.
I remember both as build(or erect/raise) sadly.

I looked up the 健 in PDF with CTRL+F and…
建 erect + 人 person → healthy person, standing fully erect → health; vigor ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

This explanation makes way sense to me and I’ll remember it forever. Some bizarre radicals like yoga, football etc. may work for me at times, but this will be my second resource when they don’t!


Thank you for sharing this, I’ll be making use of it as well.

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This is amazing, thank you! Many times, out of curiosity, I have searched for the origins/etymology of kanji, but mostly I got wiktionary entries and things like that. This is great.

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very interesting indeed, thanks for sharing!

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I count 124 made-in-Japan characters in the appendix (p.559). I don’t know if I’m surprised by how many or how few that is.

But there were quite a few familiar ones like 込、枠、峠、畑、塀、働、搾、匂 、辻、凪、笹、癪… 8 of these 12 are on WK :crabigator:


Mmh, but is this a true etymology? 建 is the phonetic component in the kanji, it’s possible that it was also selected for its meaning but what source does the document use to make that claim?

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After a quick search I found out a bit about the author.

Howell’s transcriptions of Proto-Chinese are simplified forms of Bernhard Karlgren’s old reconstructions.

I guess the etymology might vary a bit, but overall it makes sense to me.
It’s the most convenient resource I’ve found yet. There’s also the Wiktionary, but it’s incomplete and less convenient.


FWIW, Henshall has: “person and erect. A person standing erect is a sign that they are healthy. Some scholars feel that 建 also lends its sound to express strong.”


Reading the comment section on that site is like a time machine to another world.

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