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According to Wikipedia, one theory for the etymology of くノ一 (female ninja) is that it's made up of the strokes of the kanji 女 (woman).

Other theories include that it means nine and one, talking about the number of orifices men and women have, and yet another is that the term くノ一 is apocryphal. Finally, this page suggests that くノ一 might be "real", but is just a code word used by ninjas to mean woman, rather than meaning female ninja.

Are there any other words, historical or present, where the characters are made up of strokes of a kanji, along the lines of the 女 etymology theory for くノ一?

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Wow, I've always remembered the stroke order for 女 by thinking of く、の、一 in my head, and I thought it was helpful that くの一 is actually a word, but I had no idea this was a possible origin of 女. –  atlantiza Jan 22 '12 at 8:27
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@atlantiza: I think that you have misunderstood what is stated in the question. くノ一 cannot be the origin of Chinese character 女 because that would contradict the chronological order. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 22 '12 at 14:00
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+1. This question has maximum trivia value. –  Flaw Jan 23 '12 at 1:21
    
What you're looking for is a "rebus". Unfortunately doing a google for the keywords "Japanese" and "rebus" does not return any results useful to this question. –  Flaw Jan 23 '12 at 16:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

ロハ. This word is colloquial and I think mostly extinct now, but it means "free [as in beer]" and derives from the kanji 只, which is one way to write the word ただ, which means (among other things) "free".

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Wow... I was sure there were going to be no other examples because it just seemed too obscure. Nice find! :) –  Dave M G Jan 23 '12 at 7:30
    
By googling for pages with くノ一, 女, ロハ, and 只, I came across d.hatena.ne.jp/yam3104/20100714 - can someone confirm the page is talking about this phenomenon? –  Andrew Grimm Jan 23 '12 at 11:07
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Nah, most of them are just puzzles. くノ一 and ロハ are genuine words, but I don't think anyone actually says ロロ instead of 回. "いと(糸)し、いと(糸)しと言ふ心→戀(こひ)" is a bit closer to what you're looking for, but again, no-one actually says "いとし、いとしと言ふ心" instead of 恋, it's not a case of new words evolving from kanji, just a one-off puzzle. –  Matt Jan 23 '12 at 11:41

Are there any other words, historical or present, where the characters are made up of strokes of a kanji, along the lines of the 女 etymology theory for くノ一?

An example from present-day usage is タヒる from 死ぬ.

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Have you heard the saying 女三人寄れば姦しい (three women together make a terrible racket)?

The kanji for the word 姦【かしま】しい (noisy) is made up of three women...

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Related is the kanji for 嬲る (or even 嫐る) –  ssb Jan 24 '13 at 15:46
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And 森 (three kanji for trees) can mean forest. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 25 '13 at 10:41

This is a slight divergence from what you're asking (a phrase that's a reference to a kanji rather than breaking up a single kanji into strokes), but I think another interesting word is 「川{かわ}の字{じ}」, a word to describe the state where three people are sleeping side by side (typically, where two parents are sleeping with their child between them). I think this word is even less common than ロハ though.

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I get that 川 is a cryptic reference to the arrangement of the people, but what does 字 have to do with sleeping? –  Karl Knechtel Jan 23 '12 at 21:35
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The 字 doesn't have to do with sleeping; 「川の字」 is literally translated as "the character for river." The 字 is specifically pointing out that the people are in the shape of the character itself. I think you're overthinking it :) –  NattyBumppo Jan 24 '12 at 1:14
    
On a similar note, the word for cross is 十字架. –  LaC Oct 26 '12 at 9:48
    
There's also 大の字, which is if someone is in the "spread eagle" position :) –  silvermaple Jan 24 '13 at 16:19

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