speak chinese like a native

Character etymology for Elementary - Keys, Wallet, Phone 南

Posted by mandarinboy September 12, 2008 in the Group General Discussion .

Tags: south, etymology

Fourth and last cardinal point is: 南 (nán, south).


Traditional form:   

Pinyin: nán

Meaning: south; southern part; southward

Frequency: 200

Strokes: 5


Radical part: 十

Radical meaning: ten

Stroke animation: (the strokes are drawn the direction the picture is tipping)




Etymology: Historians have not agreed on the true history for this characters but there are two likely stories:

One is that it is a picture of an historic music instrument from the south of China.




It where very popular to hang up bells in different shapes in strings to an wooden frame and play on them. The bell could look like this:


The other explanation is that the inner part:



meaning the place jén ( historical place in south of China) or luxuriant vegetation. It where surrounded with an outer boundary:

The character where topped by the radical 十  that at that time also meant constant growth. What we get then is the outer boundaries of the fields in the south with constant growth. The south of China did feed large parts of the north. There is for instance a canal dug from Hangzhou ,south of Shanghai ,to Beijing to feed the emperor and the court with fresh food. If we once more look at the old character:





We can se the place of  jén surrounded  with boundaries and the crops on the top growing out of the fields.

I personally find the first explanation to be most plausible since so many early shapes of the characters very much looks like the bells found in tombs in the south. It works for my memory so I stick with it.

Example words:

指南 zhǐ nán to guide 
南京 Nán jīng Nanjing prefecture level city on the Changjiang, 
南海 Nán Hǎi South China Sea 
南非 Nán Fēi South Africa 
南瓜 nán guā pumpkin 
南极 nán jí south pole 
南下 nán xià southward 

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