Let’s talk about war!

Do you remember 阝, a radical which I discussed in an earlier post. It appears in hundreds of characters, and when it stands to the left of a phonetic it usually indicates that the character has something to do with walls. However, its original meaning was “earth works”, “mound’, “dam”, etc. This important radical also plays a role in a now obsolete character: 隓, pronounced as duò and shown above in its seal script shape. According to Leon Wieger in his book Chinese Characters, 阝 here stands for a line of fortifications built by the besiegers of a town. At the right-hand side is twice the character 左 (zuǒ), which usually means left, but is here used in another meaning: ‘unconventional’, or ‘against’, and indicates that the actions of the besiegers were directed against the town. It is doubled to indicate that the actions of the besiegers were repeated. So, the complete character means “to attack”, or “to destroy”.

Though not being used anymore in its original form, in contracted form it still is, like in 隋 (suí), in which the lower 左 was replaced by “meat”. The meaning of the character became “meat cut up”. Later this meaning was not used anymore, and instead, as often happened with characters, it came to represent something else, in this case the name of the Sui dynasty, which ruled the country from 581 to 618. 隋 can also be seen infrequently as a surname.

隋 can more often be seen as phonetic in several popular characters. One is 墮 (duò, fall, sink), in simplified script written as 堕. Here the 土 (tǔ, ground) radical was added to indicate the idea of falling, or sinking. I can only remember having seen this character in 墮胎 (duòtāi), which means ‘induced abortion’. It also appears as phonetic in 隨 (simplified: 随), pronounced suí, in which the well-known radical for ‘to go on foot’ was added. 隨 stands for ‘to follow’. The first time I learned it was in the expression 隨便 (随便), meaning: ‘casual’, or ‘as you like it’. For example, if you ask another person where they want to go for lunch, they might answer with this expression, meaning that it’s up to you. 隨(随) is also used in a phrase like: 我随我爸爸 (I take after my father). If you’re a beginning student of Chinese, then you may want to remember these two characters: 墮(堕) and 隨(随), and the expressions I mentioned.