47

腕、胸、お腹、肘、脇、肩 are all body parts, and their radical is 月. I wonder how that came to be?

73
+50

The left side is actually a form of 肉, and in traditional dictionaries the radical for these characters is 肉. It's called にくづき (from 肉{にく}+月{つき}) because it looks like 月 but is historically a form of 肉.

Because 肉 looks just like 月 in these characters, some less traditional dictionaries list these characters under 月 instead, to make them easier to look up. Still, if anyone asked me what the radical for 肘 is, I'd say 肉.

The radicals are a system for organizing characters into sections in dictionaries, and most of the time the radical is the semantic portion of semantic–phonetic compounds. However, if that were always the case, dictionary makers would need a very large number of radicals; the 214 Kangxi radicals are a compromise, and characters in this system can't always be classified under their semantophores. And in fact, the 214 radicals aren't written in stone. Different dictionaries over the years have used different sets of radicals. So when a dictionary maker chooses to list these characters under 月, they're compromising to make the characters easier to find, and they're not wrong to do so, but keep in mind that it's non-traditional and that it's historically a form of 肉.

40

That is because the radical 「月」 originally comes from two different kanji -- 「月」 ("moon") and 「肉」 ("flesh").

The two were originally treated as two completely different radicals but they are now often taught/treated to be the same radical, which is the big source of confusion today (even among us Japanese).

When you find the radical 「月」 in different kanji, some are meant to be the original Moon-月 and others, the Flesh-月. The 月 part looks the exact same, of course, which is why it confuses us.

Thus, the 「月」 used in the kanji denoting body parts is called 「にくづき」. These include:

肩{かた} (shoulder), 肺{はい} (lung)、脳{のう} (brain), etc.

The 「月」 used in the other group of kanji is called 「つき」 or 「つきへん」. Some examples are:

朝{あさ} (morning)、朏{みかづき} (crescent moon)、服{ふく} (clothes), etc. Some are clearly moon-related, some not so much. Don't ask me why; I am no kanji expert.

  • 1
    Thanks for the thorough explenation. I'm not surprised in many moon radical characters it doesn't seem to make sense. The characters are incredibly old, imported in three waves from different places where sometimes meanings got changed or characters got imported wrong, They developed in japan as well, and sometimes the radical is phonetic instead of semantic (the latter of which as japanese is pronounced different and they're from different times is inconsistent). But that so many body parts used 月 had to not be a coincidence I thought, and you confirmed my hunch. Thanks. – Dylano Stewart Rodrigues Mar 22 '17 at 10:58
14

The form that looks like 月 has several different origins, most of which are 肉 (flesh), 月 (moon), and 舟 (boat, 𣍝). Those shapes have been conflated during the development until the 9th century. The most authoritative dictionary today, Kangxi Dictionary, divides them in two, 肉-affiliated (にくづき) to radical 肉 (#130) and non-肉 to 月 (#74).

This is also what we're taught in the school, but some educational dictionaries that don't follow Kangxi sorting would merge them into 月 for the sake of convenience. In number, 肉 kanji are way much beyond true 月 and others, so a practically better way may be identifying limited number of non-肉 kanji out of 肉.

朝 期 望 朗 朔 朋 服 朕 朦 朧 & 有 (this 月 is actually 肉, but Kangxi treat it as 月)

would be a sufficient list of kanji with radical 月 in the daily life. Other kanji you may see with 月 shape in left or bottom are 99% originated from 肉.

Strictly speaking, Kangxi Dictionary makes difference between 肉-derived 月 and other 月 in form, but only Taiwan and Hong Kong's standards obey it.

enter image description here
(From left: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea)

See:

  • You may want to add 明 to the list of common 月-based kanji. Also, despite Wiktionary’s (unsourced) wording, I don’t believe there is that much consensus that 有 isn’t truly from 月 rather than ⺼. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 23 '17 at 17:42
5

There are two radicals that take the form 月: one is 月, "moon", and the other is a simplified "combining" form of the character [肉]{にく}, meaning "flesh". It is the second one that appears in kanji representing parts of the body.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.