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This question came to my mind while playing 漢字読めるカナ for Android to pass time.

温故知新 is a 4-character idiom from the 論語, Confucian Analects, meaning to learn from the past.

It is a Chinese phrase* and its kun-reading is usually given as

故【ふる】きを温【?】て、新【あたらし】きを知【し】る。

To ??? the old, and learn/understand the new.

Dictionaries and gogen-allguide disagree how one should read the first character . The reading 故き温【たず】ねて "to revisit the old" seems to be a bit more common. The problem I've got this reading is that the character does not mean たずねる or anything close -- I cannot find such a nuance in a kanji dictionary either. Kanji dictionaries such as the 漢字源, however, list the alternative interpretation that has been suggested, that is 故きを温【あたた】めて "to warm up the old".

(1) Did ever signify something like たずねる? Was it ever read as 温【たず】ねて in other contexts?

(2) Can anybody shed some light on the intended meaning of in 温故知新? Presumably, this would involve knowledge of Classical Chinese.


* The original Chinese phrase in the Analects is 子曰、温故而知新、可以為師矣. See the link for the kanbun reading.

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    The Kanji 温 means to heat. I think it was from this systemic metaphor that 生 (raw, uncooked, unprocessed) = unfamiliar and 熟 (cooked, processed) = familiar. Apparently, The sense unfamiliar of 生 is not widely used in Japanese, but 未熟 is used. – Yang Muye Nov 1 '14 at 15:05
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In the dictionary 字通【じつう】 (1996), we find:

[3] よく温熟する、ならう、たずねる。

In addition, the dictionary 類聚名義抄【るいじゅみょうぎしょう】 (approx. 12th century) lists* the following meanings for 温:

アタゝム・タツヌ・ウルフ・ツゝム・シル・アタゝカナリ・ウツクシ・ヤハラカナリ

尋【たず】ねる (or rather, タツヌ) is the second listed.


Moving on now to Chinese sources, in 漢典, it is written:

(2) 复习 [review]

温故而知新。——《礼记·中庸》

温《缁衣》一章。——清· 袁枚《祭妹文》

(3) 又如:温故知新;温故(复习学过的知识);温旧稿(比喻操旧业;干老营生);温课

Compare, for instance, (modern) Chinese 溫習 "to review, revise". Finally, in 康熙字典:

又燖也。《中庸》温故而知新。《註》温如燖温之温,謂故學之熟矣,復時習之謂之温。

This suggests that the use of 温 as "to review" is an extension of "to (re)heat".


*You can find a publicly available copy of this dictionary here. 温 can be found in book 6, page 11, to the left.

類聚名義抄, the entry for 温

  • Great answer. I added the source for the 温 entry in the 類聚名義抄 and added a few furigana. Finding it was quite interesting. Feel free to undo any changes you disagree with. I'll give it a few more days before accepting the answer. – blutorange Nov 1 '14 at 21:26
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    As this page is mainly in Japanese/English, I think it would be great if you or anybody else could add an English or Japanese translation for the Chinese part. – blutorange Nov 1 '14 at 21:31

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