9

I have studied Chinese for over 20 years and am now learning Japanese.

When learning Chinese characters at the start there are a number of kind of funny examples that are usually shown to give an idea of how Chinese characters are put together.

One of these is 安 which means "peace" in Chinese. The character shows a woman under a roof. The explanation humorously given is that a woman with a house/home is a happy woman, or something along those lines.

I was surprised to discover recently that 安 is "cheap/やすい" in Japanese.

Why was this character chosen as the kanji for "cheap" ?

1

1 Answer 1

11

When you look at the dictionary meaning of 安 in Japanese, you can see that while it does mean cheap (安い/やすい) it can also mean peaceful. I'd also like to note that many Japanese words have two readings, a kun-yomi reading and an on-yomi reading. Kun readings are generally used in Japanese words for their reading alone, while on readings are used for borrowed Chinese meanings or words. 安 has a kun reading of やす and an on reading of あん. You can see in some words that it retains its original meaning and reading: 安心 (あんしん) can mean relief, or peace of mind. 安定 (あんてい) can mean stability, and composure. However, it seems that some Japanese words relating to peacefulness were read as "やす," in particular 安らか (peaceful) and 休まる (feel at ease). Here, 安 was chosen for its meaning, but its reading was ignored to accommodate the original Japanese reading

Judging from this, it is likely that since 安 was used in words where it was read as やす, it became generally associated with that reading. Therefore, when people sought to write "cheap," which was already read as "やすい," with kanji, they chose 安 based on its kun reading with little regard to the on reading or original meaning.

2
  • 1
    Wouldn't it be an example of ateji then? Nov 10, 2022 at 23:28
  • Yes, I believe it would count as ateji @homocomputeris
    – hyposkill
    Nov 14, 2022 at 22:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .