Meaning Of Semantic Components

Kanji’s phonetic components are straightforward enough, but what about the semantic part? 口、人、土、金 and a few more are simple, but something like 肉 being simplified into 月 and so the latter being present in things like 服 and body parts is harder to notice.
I’m starting to think 貝 is linked to value, seeing things like 買, 質, 費, 貯, 販, 資, 財, etc., all having it as the semantic half. Do you know of any others? I also found this in Wikipedia:

The character 虫 models a worm. To derive from this, characters meaning creeping animals such as reptiles, insects, worms, amphibians, and shellfish are included in this radical.

But aside from that it’s hard to find more info, even in scientific papers. Do you know of other sources, maybe in Japanese or Chinese?

In many countries, and maybe in japan they used shells as currency, because it’s in most places not easy to find and durable enough

Check this the kanji 駅 | KANJI PORTRAITS


Ooh, that’s a very nice site. Thanks for sharing.

Here’s another site from the same author as the one behind Kanji Portraits (if I’m not wrong).

There are definitely sources in Chinese and Japanese, but I think it’s fairly rare to find lists of components with their meanings. Instead, what you usually get is kanji etymology breakdowns that focus on where each component in a given kanji came from, and what each component means. For example, for 服, you can look at Kanjipedia:
The bit on how the kanji was formed says


I have to admit that I don’t understand all of it, but it essentially says that the 月 we see used to be a 舟, and it originally referred to boats that… escorted another boat, I think? By extension, it came to mean ‘additional thing’, or something that one attaches to one’s body in order to wear it.

This is essentially how you’ll see kanji components explained in most sources for natives. I don’t think you’ll see exhaustive lists of radical meanings very often, especially because the same component can have different origins in different kanji.

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You mean like a tugboat? or a remora in the case of mantas? But the latter plays more into the “additional thing” meaning I guess?

That would be a good metaphor for the kanji :smiley: .

I’m really not sure. I was thinking more of smaller escort ships for a large warship or a ship carrying someone or something important. I couldn’t find the definition or reading of そえ舟 though, so I can’t verify the accuracy of my guess.

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I think for bigger warships the small escorts are usually corvette-class or the much bigger frigate-class ships (I know it only from war games, I’ve no idea about ships xD), so that might be it as well.

The only “tugboat” thing I found was 曳船, which literally means “tugboat”. Very helpful :smiley: .

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Yeap, that’s from Noriko as well. I’m gonna check out her book.
Man, all the simplifications and replacements are so hard to keep up with. It definitely makes more sense to explain the etymology in a case by case basis, you could even learn about wuxing to understand the metaphors. I’m sure that’d explain a lot but it’s too complicated for me.

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I always thought this was a Chinese input method, not so much a system of classification of radicals. In any case, yeah, I think what would probably help you is a kanji etymology site of sorts. As far as I know, the best explanations in English probably come from Noriko Williams. Japanese and Chinese explanations sometimes don’t line up, but there are often multiple theories anyway, and Chinese theories are other either untranslated or behind paywalls, so you might as well stick with those two sites above and perhaps NHK’s Japaneasy’s ‘Bu Sensei’s Kanji Dojo’ episodes until you’re comfortable enough with Japanese for resources like Kanjipedia.

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