Friday, September 23, 2011

Two characters mapped to a single representation

In Chinese, the character for meat/flesh 肉 (ròu) and the character for month/moon 月 (yuè) are both mapped to the same radical, which can be combined with selected other components to make other characters. That radical is visually a thinner version of 月. Here it is on the left side of 臉 (liǎn; face) and on the right side of 期 (qí [pronounced qī in China]; a period of time).

Despite the radicals being the same visually, the nature of the character of which it is part makes it clear which of the two original characters (meat/flesh or month/moon) is being represented. Face (臉) is more related to flesh (肉) than to month/moon (月). A period of time (期) is more related to month (月) than to meat/flesh (肉). At least in my own usage, the radical appears far more often in its flesh/meat guise.

In a quasi-similar vein, some old typewriters (well, I guess all typewriters are old these days) didn't have a key for the numeral 1 -- you hit the key for the letter l (ell) instead.

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