I was looking up the etymology of 泊, and I got this:

形声。白は、どんぐりの実を描いた象形文字で、どんぐりの実の中みのあわく白い色を示す。泊は「水+音符白」で、白の原義とは関係がない。水が浅くて舟底が水底にせまってとまること。また、水かさの少ない浅瀬のこと。 【泌】  会意兼形声。必は、棒を両側からしめつけるさまを描いた象形文字。泌は「水+音符必」で、両側から締めつけて液体をいびり出すこと。

I really don't understand what it means, in particular I don't know what 泌 and 音符必/白 means. I know 音符 is note, and 泌 gets translated as secretion, but I can't understand this article. I also mentions the original meaning of 白, but I don't know what it's saying that meaning is.

  • 2
    I think you also copied the etymology of 泌, which is unrelated. The etymology given for 泊 gives the etymology for "ride at anchor", as per WWWJDIC. How it is related to stazing over night is not explained in the passage you quote.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 19, 2013 at 19:03
  • by the way, where did you find this etymology dictionary? I've been looking for good ones for a while...
    – HAL
    Jun 20, 2013 at 4:19
  • I don't remember....
    – user3457
    Jun 20, 2013 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


泊 was constructed phonetically(形声). The components are 水+白. There are a couple reasons why a character might be coined phonetically. It's possible that the word was already spoken by Chinese people, and when someone decided he wanted to write it down, he picked a symbolic radical and character that had a similar sound and combined them to coin a new word. That article is saying that 白 meant an acorn, and is a component of 泊, but that they have no connection (関係がない). It then explains the connection to shallow water.

To summarize, the etymology of the character is that in the Sino-Tibetan language family, the word for "shallow water" is related by meaning to "water" and had a similar sound with the word for "white."

You may have noticed that a few phonetic characters have phonetic components that are also very related in meaning to the overall character. That's probably because the people coining these characters didn't do it with the minimum effort possible. They actually put quite a bit of effort into coining them. According to "A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters",

"it is possible that 白 also lent its meaning of white, since white water is generally associated with shallows. However, from an early stage 泊 became associated with shallow water suitable for an anchorage, then came to mean stopping place and eventually stop/stay in general."

Note how he said "it is possible" and how the source you came across doesn't mention this at all. That's because the proper etymology is just that the two words sounded similar.

For 泌, it says the character was coined by meaning(会意) and(兼) phonetic(形声) reasons. I've just explained what 形声 means. According to that source, 必 is a pictograph(象形) of someone pressing against two ends of a rod. It then says that 水+必 refers to the water oozing out of the two ends of a pole that someone is pressing against. Actually, I'm not sure that source is correct. 必 is generally considered to have unclear etymology and "A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters" says that it was originally a picture of a halberd between two poles. However, for 泌, that source mentions that in Chinese, its only meaning is "steady flow" which is wrong because looking in a Chinese dictionary, 泌 also means to secrete. This makes me question its accuracy. To be safe, I would say that 必 is unclear and 泌 was coined phonetically.

  • "That's because the proper etymology is just that the two words sounded similar." Yeah, Henshall believes phonetic elements were sometimes chosen partially for their semantic association as well as their sound. Obviously, not everyone agrees...
    – user1478
    Jun 20, 2013 at 4:18
  • Was white a new meaning based on acorn? The article said something about the pale white of an acorn, right?
    – user3457
    Jun 20, 2013 at 16:18
  • According to that article, the character 白 came to refer to the pale white color of the inside(中み) of an acorn. It's a sensible explanation, I guess. A second possibility is that it was just a phonetic loan. Many characters were originally pictographs and then borrowed phonetically with the original meaning scrapped.
    – HAL
    Jun 21, 2013 at 3:06

The part 「水+音符白」 means that the meaning comes from 水 and the reading from 白, since it is a 形声文字.

The passage you quote says that 白 does not relate to the meaning "white", but is rather a pictograph of an acorn.

The character 水 appears because "riding at anchor" meant that the water collects at the bottom of the ship.

Now, the usual meaning of "staying over night" derives from the fact that a harbour used to be called a 泊(とまり), because ships would stay there overnight. (Link)

  • Why is the hieroglyph for acorn included? And I also was hoping to know what 泌 meant.
    – user3457
    Jun 19, 2013 at 19:24
  • Oh nevermind I get what you mean. But still, why for acorn?
    – user3457
    Jun 19, 2013 at 19:40
  • The acorn is there only for sound. (E.g. compare 伯, 拍, 舶, 狛, 柏, 粕, 岶, 怕, etc. all of which can be read はく, but none of which necessarily have anything to do with an acorn.) The only reason I mentioned the acorn is that the passage you quoted discussed the etymology of 白.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 19, 2013 at 22:24
  • Why would they randomly pick a character to get a reading of はく?
    – user3457
    Jun 19, 2013 at 23:23
  • 1
    @Anthony 語 is made up of 言 + 吾, so it doesn't directly include 五. (You can look up the character origin in the same 漢和辞典 you found 泊 in.)
    – user1478
    Feb 16, 2014 at 12:18

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