4

The Etymological Dictionary of Han Chinese Characters (which is the pdf/book format of the database for an old website called "Kanji Networks") states:

風 (9) フウ;フ;かざ;かぜ
A variant form of 鳳 (large bird flapping its wings), later conceived of as the source of wind causing various life forms and other objects to flutter → trend; atmosphere; taste; custom (← things brought in then carried off by the wind).

Wiktionary states:

Phono-semantic compound (形聲, OC *plum, *plums): phonetic 凡 (OC *bom) + semantic 虫 (“insects”). Ancient Chinese thought insects appear with wind. (Insects refer to any kind of animal, such as tigers (大蟲)).

Most other dictionaries I've searched online seem to agree with the latter (at least somewhat), but which is correct? I find it harder to believe that something so common as the wind would be a derived from a mythological bird, although its a much cooler explanation than the wind causing animals to appear.

Has anyone ever seen the former etymology before? Does this mean Kanji Networks and their dictionary is not to be trusted at all? I'm a relatively new learner of Japanese and so I'm not sure if its a known discredited source. Or am I missing something here? Any help appreciated. Apologies if this isn't the right place for this question, please move it somewhere its more likely to be answered if so. Thanks!

  • 1
    Non-academic resources sometimes are very accurate, but most of the time they range from anything to half-accurate whilst over-interpreting some aspects to completely inaccurate, for the sake of making mnemonics. There's nothing wrong with using mnemonics based on non-factual information, though, and real academic information is extremely hard to come by. In this instance, Kanji Networks is more accurate than Wiktionary, although it is still a bit off with the over-interpretation. – droooze Aug 21 '18 at 10:38
8

「風」(wind) and「鳳」(Chinese male mythical bird) share the same origins. The origin of「風」is nothing more than a differentiation from「鳳」; previously, since「風」did not have its own character, it just used「鳳」as a phonetic loan (note that they both have the two On'yomi ふう and ほう).


「鳳」was originally a picture of an elaborately adorned mythical bird with a large crown and long tail feathers.

A


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2.39.10
合集13339

Later on, a sound hint「凡」was added, and the bird tails became even more elaborately adorned.

B


enter image description here
2.30.6
合集38186



enter image description here
147「凡」
合集18875

The adornments on the bird tails eventually separated from the bird itself.

C
西周

enter image description here
中方鼎
集成2752

During this period of change, some inscriptions may have used a simpler, less elaborate bird shape that eventually evolved to「隹/鳥」(these two are variants).「凡」also grew to cover the entire bird. These changes lead on to the modern「鳳」.

B


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後2.30.6
合集38186
D
商ㆍ

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7.9
合集30234
E


enter image description here
說文解字
 
F
現代

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Another variant saw most of the structure of the bird being omitted. Take one of the separated tail adornments from form C, and remove the top circle-dot shape「⊙」. We're left with「凡」and a very simple remnant of the adornment, leading on to the modern「風」.

C
西周

enter image description here
中方鼎
集成2752
G


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帛甲1.31
 
H


enter image description here
秦2
 
I
現代

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There is no particular reason to remove「⊙」, which is why we have variants which kept「⊙」and removed the other part.「風」became the more popular variant due to an accident in history.

J


enter image description here
說文古文
 
K
現代

enter image description here
「凬」
 

「虫」has nothing to do with「風」!「虫」originally depicted a poisonous snake (now written「虺」; the meaning insects was strictly written as「蟲」in Kyūjitai before becoming simplified to「虫」).「風」and「虫」converged in shape because the reduced adornment looked very graphically similar to the snake since very early on.




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8718
合集22296

西周

enter image description here
虫⿱爫日作旅鼎
集成2175



enter image description here
睡ㆍ日甲62背
 

現代

enter image description here

 


References:

  • 李學勤《字源》
  • 季旭昇《說文新證》
  • 裘錫圭《文字學概要》
  • 小學堂
  • 國學大師
  • 2
    Wow that's quite an HTML artwork! – broccoli forest Aug 21 '18 at 10:47
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    Wow, thanks for the answer @droooze! It seems that several places mention "wind brings insects". I found this in a book called "Body, Subject and Power in China": "The Han Dynasty dictionary Shuowen suggests that the insect radical in the character for wind derives from the fact that insects stir when the wind blows." If the ancient Chinese (at least as far as the Shuowen) really did think that wind brings insects/animals, would that not be an explanation for how the plume of the phoenix's tail was simplified to a (albeit modified) insect/snake? Or did this belief arise from the character? – KingOfDust Aug 21 '18 at 21:41
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    @KingOfDust Shuowen is a very traditional source of explanations. The author, Xu Shen, did a good job with what he had, but note that (1) he was not a linguist and had pre-scientific thinking, and (2) by the time Shuowen was written, more than 1,000 years have already passed from the earliest inscriptions we've dug up already. We have more resources now than Xu Shen ever had to gather information. If there is an association between Wind and Insects, it wasn't there originally and arose from erroneous thinking - but it is entirely possible for originally erroneous thinking to become tradition. – droooze Aug 21 '18 at 21:49
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    @KingOfDust many publications today deal with erroneous information in Shuowen, such as one of the references I mentioned - 季旭昇《說文新證》. – droooze Aug 21 '18 at 21:49
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    Now I'm curious if the elaborate bird initially referenced by this character might have been a peacock -- similar bobble-feathers on the head like a crown, and similar long and elaborate tail feathers. Also, not native to China, but endemic to India, close enough that descriptions of the bird might have been known in China. – Eiríkr Útlendi Aug 21 '18 at 22:09

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