From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kanji Mastery—Radical 134 (臼 Mortar)

[a] Aesthetic(ally) challenge(d) RF
Radical 134 is not particularly common in written Sino-Japanese. Heck, most people don't even think about mortar very much, whether or not it is accompanied by brick or pestle. On the other hand, you'll remember it if you have seen it. The character element (sometimes called a "primitive" to underline its foundational importance in the early language) is memorable for its very oddity. 

[b] Mortar coils RF
It is not especially easy to write in at least two respects. While it is only six strokes "long"—and hardly as challenging to remember as, say, "nose" (鼻)—students frequently forget its "stroke order."* The second difficulty is aesthetic. No matter how well you might wield the brush, it is difficult to make "mortar" hold its form on the written page. It tends to look overly mechanical, on the one hand, or oddly proportioned, on the other. This simple little character element presents thorny little problems, then.
*Follow these brief steps: a) "copy" the character 臼  b) click on the stroke order link here, c) paste 臼 into the search box and click "get diagram."

A further difficulty with regard to "mortar" is that it just is not very common (in the Japanese language, if not on the face of buildings). It may have been a key element—it is a "primitive," remember—in the brick and mortar linguistic crafting in early East Asia, but it appears in surprisingly few characters and combinations for all of that lifting and smoothing. You might want to think of the mortar fading softly into the larger picture of bricks that make up the Sino-Japanese script. For that reason, I am including in this post all of the listings in The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary. Such a list would not be possible with a radical such as 言, "speech," but "mortar" doesn't pack quite the breadth-wise punch of the major radicals.  
[c] Bricks and stuff RF
Of Nelson's 7,107 characters (kanji), "mortar" has...nine combinations. Yup, nine, and a few of those, as you'll see below, are not used in today's written language. The "speech" radical has 170 listings, and it is hardly the most prolific of the dictionary's radicals. 

Let's face it, "mortar" is a minor radical. 

You might want to think of it as the Saul Alinsky of the language when compared to the Leon Trotsky-like radicals that dominate the written page (刀, 土, 大, 手, 日, 火, 目). Like Alinsky, though, "mortar" is serious about its work (Alinsky even wrote the book on radicals) even though it was never the subject of a fine Secretary of State's college senior thesis and a remarkably acerbic set of comments by a certain politician (née Newton Leroy McPherson) from the U.S. state ranked third in peach production. 臼 is like that. It doesn't appear often in the textbooks, but people can get surprisingly worked up—into a slather, actually—about it.
Radical 134
Chinese (Mandarin): jiu4
Chinese (Cantonese): kau5
Japanese (On): キュウ KYUU
Japanese (Kun): うす usu
Korean: 절구 구
Selections from The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary.
Radical 134 
Usu mortar. Nickname: Mortar.
KYUU; usu mortar, hand mill.
This post will be brief. Nelson's Japanese-English Dictionary only lists five combinations, and I have included all of them here.

臼石 うすいし                usuishi                millstone; burstone       (mortar+stone)
臼挽 うすひ(き)              usuhi(ki)             milling; miller                 (mortar+pull/draw)
臼砲 キュウホウ            kyuuhou              mortar                           (mortar+ballista)
臼歯 キュウシ; うすば   kyuushi; usuba    molar                            (mortar+tooth)
臼歌 うすうた                usuuta                 rice pounders' song      (mortar+song) 

As always, we will take a little walk through the mill and examine the character forms that have "mortar" in them. Unlike "boat" (always on the left, as in 舵), "mortar" appears above, below, and even in the middle of characters. Because there are only nine characters listed with this radical in the entire dictionary, I am listing them all here. 
 ユ、ヨ、ヨウ                      YU, YO YOU                  A little while; urging
舁 ヨ、か(く)、あげる            YO, ka(ku), a(geru)        Bear, carry (a palanquin)
舂 ショウ、うすつく               SYOU, usutsu(ku)         Pound a mortar; sink, set (sun)
與 ヨウ、あたえる                  YOU, atae(ru)                Traditional form for(N6)
舅 キュウ、しゅうと               KYOU, syuuto                Father-in-law
興 コウ、キョウ                      KOU, KYOU                  Interest, entertainment
舉 キョ、あげる、こぞる, etc   KYO, age(ru), kozu(ru) Traditional form for 挙 (N2150)
舊 キュウ、ふるい                     KYUU, furu(i)                 Traditional form for 旧 (N2412)
[e] Adhesive? RF

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