A Cutting Remark

In Japanese, one word for shaving or slicing is kezu(ru), 削る. A planing competition is called a Kezurō-kai, 削ろう会, the stem ~ō adding the meaning “let’s go~!”. It’s a ‘Let’s Plane!’ Meet.

One way the character ‘‘ can be understood more clearly is by considering that it is composed of two elements, each of which can be neatly be divided from one another with a vertical slice down the middle. If we dig into the meanings of those elements separately we might find some interesting connections and associations. Sometimes I find such ‘tunneling in’ to a character can lead to interesting outcomes. Sometimes not.

The character ‘削’ is composed of ‘肖’ on the left side and a simplified form of ‘刀’ on the right side. That right side element ‘刀’ means sword and stems from a picture of a sword with a curved blade.

The left side part, ‘肖’, is itself composed of two elements, ‘小’ on the top and ”肉’ on the bottom.

‘肉’ is derived from a pictogram of a cut of meat, with a couple of veins exposed, or muscle striations perhaps:

It means meat or flesh. When kanji describe body parts, they typically use this element in the character. Here are a selection of examples out of many:


You have to look closely at that last one to see the ‘肉’ buried in there.

One confusing thing about this character when it is used as a radical within a more complex character though is that it looks exactly the same as the one meaning moon: 月

The character meaning moon stemmed from a pictograph of the crescent moon:

Or in another similar version:

Compare those two with the first one showing a piece of meat and you can see how the similarities got started between these elements.

So, in the character, ‘‘ , meaning grow fat, the radical ‘月’ conveys the meaning of flesh, while in the character ‘‘, meaning clear, bright, cheerful, the radical  ‘月’  is the moon.  See how this dual nature of  ‘月’, meat and moon, could be a little confusing?

Anyway, putting small ‘小’ and piece of flesh ‘肉’ together gives,  ‘‘, the literal meaning of which is small offspring that resemble the parents in miniature.

Putting look, resemble, be like, ‘肖’ , with sword/knife, ‘刀’ , gives the character we started with, ‘‘, with meanings of which are shave, scrape, plane or pare, creating small likenesses of the original object → shave/plane/pare; reduce; boil down; concentrate; remove; erase; cut; delete.

The Japanese read the character 削 as kezu(ru). It’s a character that means plane wood, and it also means sharpen (a pencil), grate (some cheese), scrape (cast iron), and so forth.

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