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I see the character 叉 in a lot of words that do not seem to have anything in common:

[夜叉]{やしゃ}

[三叉路]{さんさろ}

[叉焼]{チャーシュー}

[音叉]{おんさ}

Is there any commonality here? What does 叉 represent? (Is the Chinese meaning different than the Japanese meaning?)

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It looks like these are all related to the meaning "fork", except for 夜叉, which appears to use the character for its sound.

  • 三叉路 The road forks, going three ways
  • 音叉 A tuning fork
  • 叉焼 (Meat) roasted on a fork (Wikipedia link)

It appears that 夜叉 is a phonetic transcription of Yakṣa (Wikipedia link), using 叉 for its sound. I don't know why those characters were chosen specifically.

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Both answers were good, however going by the SO tradition that "the first answer gets the most rep", I will select this one. Thanks. –  Jesse Good Sep 20 '12 at 1:53

There are two categories of words here: 1) 三叉路, 叉焼, 音叉 and 2) 夜叉.

In the first category, 叉 is used for its semantic value: a fork. In 三叉路, this is a path or road that branches in three directions like the shape of a Y. In 叉焼, it is the pronged fork that the pork is attached to for cooking. In 音叉, it is the U-shaped fork used in tuning sounds.

As for the second category, it has nothing to do with the semantic meaning of the character but rather the phonetic value. In 夜叉, it is being used to transliterate the Sanskrit word yakṣa (यक्ष).

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