Today I confused 忙 with 忘 and now I can see why: they are made of same radicals and yet they have different meanings. Is there a logical reason for this?

  • It may well be simple convention. 'They both sound like 亡 and have to do with mental states, so let's just say the one with the 心 on the side is 'hurry' and the other one is 'forget'.' I don't know that there's any real way to prove that theory, though. – Sjiveru Mar 28 '16 at 23:06
  • I think meanings of radicals can slightly differ depending on their placement? I wonder if that's what's happening here. – kuchitsu Mar 29 '16 at 10:39

The meanings are a bit related: when one is in haste, one tends to forget things.

But as for why the characters developed the way they did, you'll have to ask someone with background knowledge of the Chinese characters themselves.

I do see that the reconstructed Old Chinese readings and researched Middle Chinese readings aren't very far apart between the two characters:

  • 忙: "flurried, hurried, in haste; to hasten, to hurry"
    Old Chinese reading: /*mˁaŋ/
    Middle Chinese reading: mang

  • 忘: "to forget, to overlook"
    Old Chinese reading: /*maŋ/, /*maŋs/
    Middle Chinese reading: mjang, mjangH

The similar semantics and similar phonetics could suggest a common root.


The radical for both is 心. 忙,心死也。 It means the state of being busy is equivalent as the heart(mind) being dead (not working in an intelligent way), which is what is commonly understood as the poor man's ADHD, the short sightedness caused by being materialistically deficient. 忘 is also 亡心。Forgetting something would be similar as things dying off in the mind which would be equivalent to forgetting.

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