Exemplarious translation of Explaining Simple and Analyzing Compound Characters


The Shuowen jiezi 说文解字 “Explaining simple and analyzing compound characters”, short Shuowen 说文, is the oldest and one of the most important character dictionaries of ancient China. It was compiled by the Later Han period 后汉 (25-220 CE) scholar Xu Shen 许慎.

Exemplarious translation:

1上.【 [一]】惟初太始道立于一。造分天地,化成万物。凡一之属皆从一。于悉切。【 [弌]】古文一。
1A. Unity : It is, that the start of the Great Begin of the Way is based upon Unity. It divides Heaven and Earth and forms the ten thousand creations. All things related to “one” have the 一 as part of the character (元、天、丕、吏). Pronounced like Y- and -I (yi). 弌 is an old character for 一.


【 [天]】颠也。至高无上。从一、大。他前切。
Heaven (tian): is the summit (dian). The highest point where nothing can mount above. The character is compounded of “one” and “great”. Prounounced like T- and -IAN (tian).



【 [上]】高也。此古文上。指事也。凡上之属皆从上。时掌切。【 】篆文上。
Above: is high. It is the old character for 上, character type “pointing to situation”. All things related to “above” have the 上 as part of their character (帝、旁、下). Pronounced like SH- and -ANG (shang). is the Small Seal script character for 上.


【 [帝]】谛也。王天下之号也。从上、朿声。都计切。【 】古文帝。古文诸上字皆从一,篆文皆从二。【二】古文上字。辛、示、辰、龙、童、音、章,皆从古文上。
Emperor (di): is careful (di). Denomination for the true ruler of the earth. Deriving from “above” and the sound of 朿 ce or qi. Pronounced like D- and I (di). is an old character for 帝. All old style characters with the radical 上 are written with a simple stroke 一, the Small Seal style characters with a double stroke 二. 二 is an old character for 上. The following characters are written with the old style 上: xin (a celestial stem), shi (showing), chen (an earthly branch), long (dragon), tong (young), yin (sound) and zhang (stanza).
8上.【 [人]】天地之性最贵者也。此籀文象臂胫之形。凡人之属皆从人。如邻切。
8A. Man: the worthiest of all the beings between Heaven and Earth. This is the Large Seal character depicting of a man with arms and legs. All things related to man have the 人 as part of their character. Pronounced like R- and -IN (ren).
【 [老]】考也。七十曰老。从人、毛、匕,言须发变白也。凡老之属皆从老。卢皓切。
Old: aged. Seventy years is old. Compounded of the characters for man, hair and change, saying that beard and hair becoming white. All things related to old age have the 老 as part of their character (like 耆、壽、孝). Pronounced like L- and -AO (lao).
【 [考]】老也。从老省、ㄎ声。苦浩切。
Aged: old. Compounded of an abridged 老 and the sound of ㄎ kao. Pronounced like K- and -AO (kao).



13下. 【 [土]】地之吐生物者也。二象地之下,地之中物出形也。凡土之属皆从土。它鲁切。
13B. Soil 土: what the earth produces of living creatures. The two horizontal strokes depict the earth below, (and the vertical stroke) depicts what beings come out of the earth. All things related to earth have the 土 as part of their character. Pronounced like “T” and “U” (tu).
【 [地]】元气初分轻清阳为天,重浊阴为地。万物所陈列也。从土、也声。徒内切。【 】籀文地,从队。
Earth 地: The prime breath divided the light, clear and bright things as Heaven from the heavy, muddy and dark things as Earth. It is that what arranged the ten thousand beings. Deriving from “soil” and the sound of 也 ye. Pronounced like T- and -EI (di). is a Large Seal style character for 地, derived from 隊.
【 [甲]】东方之孟阳气萌动,从木戴孚甲之象。一曰:人头空为甲。甲象人头。凡甲之属皆从甲。古狎切。【 】古文甲,始于十,见于千,成于木之象。
Shield, or the first of the Celestial Stems: When the first sun breathes from the east, the sprouts move out of the earth. The character depicts a wooden handle headed with a trustful shield.Somebody states, using a hollow skull as shield, the character depicting a man’s head. All things related to shield have the 甲 as part of their character (actually none). Pronounced like G- and -IA (jia). is an old character for 甲, depicting: Beginning with ten, becoming apparent with thousand, completed in a tree.
【 [子]】十一月阳气动万物,滋人以为偁。象形。凡子之属皆从子。李阳冰曰:子在中足并也。即里切。【 】古文子,从川象发也。【 】籀文子,囟有发臂胫在几上也。
Son, or the first of the Terrestrial Branches: In the eleventh month, the sun breath moves the ten thousand beings, nourishing man to full accordance with nature. The character is a picture (of a child). All things related to children have the 子 as part of their character (like孕、字、孪、孺、季、孟、孽、孳、孤、存、疑). Li Yangbing says: It depicts a baby in its diapers, the feet side by side. Pronounced like J- and -I (zi). is an old character for 子, three strokes depicting the hair. is the Large Seal script character, the fontanel having hair, arms and legs and lying on a small table.
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