Despite tough economic times, many dog owners in Japan still shell out big yen to pamper their pooches: Delectable ドッグおやつ (dogguoyatsu, dog snacks), perky 犬洋服 (inuy ōfuku, dog clothing), and outings to the 犬の美容院 (inu no biyōin, dog beauty salon) are de rigueur for the coddled 愛犬 (aiken, beloved dog).
In stark contrast, in ancient China, when the pictograph representing “dog” was first scrawled out, canines were generally worked to death and then eaten. The kanji 燃 (moeru, burn), printed on household garbage bags and public trash cans in Japan, pictures the flesh (肉) of a dog (犬) roasting on one fire (火) on the left and another on the bottom right (four dots).
The modern character 犬 (inu, KEN) is a vastly simplified version of the original, which pictured a dog standing on its hind legs barking.
The shape and meaning of 犬 can be easily remembered if you think of a dog as a large (大) animal with a floppy ear (the dot seen at the top right of the kanji character).
犬 (written as 犭 on the left side of characters) serves as a component in a variety of general-use kanji.
Here are some canine kanji divided into their constituent parts, with a mnemonic provided for remembering both the shape and the meaning of each one:
独 (DOKU, alone): A dog infested with fleas (虫, insect) is masterless, or alone.
狂 (KYŌ, insane): A king (王) who behaves like a dog (犭) is insane.
黙 (MOKU, silent): A black (黒) dog (犬) slips silently and unseen into the dark of night.
獄 (GOKU, prison): A prison is guarded by two barking (言, speaking) dogs (犭, 犬).
献 (KEN, donate): South (南)-of-the-border dogs (犬), chihuahuas, are donated by Mexico to North Americans as a goodwill gesture.
犯 (HAN, crime) A wild dog (犭) has attacked the person on the right, sitting on the ground with his upper body slumped over, the victim of a canine crime.
(Note: Stories from your imagination often serve as better mnemonics than kanji etymologies because: 1) many characters have been simplified and miscopied since they were first created; and 2) components were often chosen for their phonetic — as opposed to semantic — value).
When written as 犭, 犬 also has the conceptually related meaning of “beast,” which explains why animals such as monkeys (猿, saru), foxes (狐, kitsune), cats (猫, neko) and wolves (狼, ōkami) feature this component. Go figure, the Big, Bad Wolf (狼) is written with the kanji-component meaning “good” (良 yo-i). 猫 (neko, cat) is the beast (?) with whiskers resembling rice seedlings (苗 nae).
Some kanji compound words with 犬 as a comprising character are identical to English expressions: A 犬侍 (inuzamurai, dog/samurai, disgraced samurai) has “gone to the dogs”; 犬死 (inujini, dog/death) is “to die like a dog”; and 犬歯 (kenshi, dog/teeth) are “canine teeth.” People at loggerheads in Japan, though, are compared to dogs and monkeys (犬猿, kenen, dog/monkey) instead of fighting like cats and dogs.
Before Japanese pet stores became flooded with expensive designer dogs, breed names were typically followed by 犬 (KEN), as in コリー犬 (koriken, collie), but these days, the likes of ゴールデンレトリーバー (gōrudenretoribā, golden retriever) sound more exotic to the Japanese ear without “ken” attached.ドッグ (doggu, dog) is also increasingly replacing 犬 in words like ドッグカフェ (doggukafe, dog cafe) and ドッグトレーニング (doggutorēningu, dog training).
Doggie diapers, massages, psychiatrists . . . noble canines 忠犬ハチ公 (chūkenhachikō, faithful/dog/Hachiko, Shibuya Station Hachiko) and 名犬ラッシー (meikenrasshi, renowned/dog/Lassie, Lassie) must be turning over in their graves at all this sissy Beautiful Dog Life business.
Quiz: Match the following compound words comprised of kanji containing dog-components with their English meanings/Japanese pronunciations. Answers are below.
1. 地獄 (Earth/prison)
2. 獣医 (beast/doctor)
3. 狂犬病 (insane/dog/disease)
4. 猫背 (cat/back)
5. 負け犬 (be defeated/dog)
6. 猛犬 (fierce/dog)
7. 猟師 (hunting/master)
8. 可燃 (possible/burn)
a. combustible (kanen)
b. stooped back (nekoze)
c. rabies (kyōkenbyō)
d. ferocious dog (mōken)
e. hell (jigoku)
f. veterinarian (jūi)
g. total loser (makeinu)
h. hunter (ryōshi)
Explore kanji-learning materials utilizing component analysis at www.kanjiclinic.com
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