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I was browsing through the webpage of Japanese radicals on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_Japanese_kanji_radicals)

I noticed

74 - 月

and

130 - 肉

bot entries are referencing in the most right column to the respective other radical

I looked furthermore into the KANJIDIC2 kanji-lexicon file and it seems like these two kanjis-radicals are seemingly randomly assigned to kanjis.

According to this dictionary, the Kanji 育 has 肉 as radical (which it obviously has not, its 月). I made this observation in many places (I assumed all open dictionaries rely on the same public Kanji dictionary?)

<literal>育</literal>
<codepoint>
<cp_value cp_type="ucs">80b2</cp_value>
<cp_value cp_type="jis208">16-73</cp_value>
</codepoint>
<radical>
<rad_value rad_type="classical">130</rad_value>
<rad_value rad_type="nelson_c">8</rad_value>
</radical>

Does anyone know the (historical) background of this 肉/月 radical interchangeability

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1  
I think that at one point the radical ⺼ was used in place of 肉 the same way the radicals change form in 示/神 衣/被 犬/狗. ⺼obviously looks really similar to 月 and as far as I know, there are no characters differentiated by the two radicals, so people probably just wrote them the same way, and eventually that became considered the official way to write it. –  無色受想行識 Apr 18 at 22:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Two premises:

  1. Radicals are a method for indexing characters in dictionaries.
  2. As an element in other characters, the form 月 can represent 肉, 舟, 丹, and 月, among others.

As you can see, these elements all look rather similar, so it's not surprising that historically they weren't always distinguished in form.

So when you see a character containing what appears to be 月, how do you know which Kangxi radical to look it up under? How would you know that 肘 and 服 are in different sections of the dictionary if you haven't learned to read these characters yet?

The editors of some kanji dictionaries have tried to solve this problem by merging radicals which are visually indistinguishable. For example, the New Nelson moves all the characters traditionally classified under 月 to 肉 (except for 月 itself). This doesn't really make sense in terms of meaning, but it makes the dictionary easier to use. This merger is especially useful for students like yourself who see 育 and say that it obviously contains 月.

You may be interested to know that in characters where 月 represents 丹, it is sometimes instead written with 円—specifically in 青 and characters containing it such as 錆, 鯖, and 睛.

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it's two radicals drawn the same way. The radical for 肉 looks like 月 in most instances and the radical for 月 looks like 月 in all instances. The former radical means "flesh" / The latter means time. As to why they changed it, I don't know. Maybe it's just easier to write. But it is known which radical each character is using (and generally pretty obvious due to the meaning difference -- nearly every body part contains the にくつき in its character.

In fact, the only common characters that contain 肉 are [肉]{にく} and [腐]{くさ}る / [腐]{ふ}

It's actually more frequent for the radical drawn as 月 to mean "flesh":

肋 あばら/ロク - skin
肌 はだ/ キ - rib
...

(if you just click through radicals for 月 you can see how impressively long the list is)

Examples where it's the moon: 前 期 朗 朝 

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