|Allons, enfants de la patrie...
||[Jul. 15th, 2005|12:18 am]
Kanji of the Day
Yeah, so technically it's not Bastille Day anymore, but in honor of our French friends, here's:|
仏 BUTSU FUTSU hotoke
This character can refer either to Buddhism (and the Buddha Sakyamuni himself) or to... France. Obviously, the latter meaning is much more recent, and it comes from the on'yomi of FUTSU, which sounds sort of like the fu in furansu. There are other kanji like this with a bonus country meaning based on phonetics, like 独 (DOKU; "alone/independent") for doitsu (Germany / Deutschland) and 伊 (I, no real intrinsic meaning) for itaria (Italy). These are examples of ateji, a mostly defunct system of writing the names of foreign people, places, and (oddly enough) fruits and vegetables in kanji instead of katakana. It's too late at night for me to go on about ateji, but here's one teaser example: 鳳梨 ("phoenix pear") looks like a perfectly normal compound that should be read with the on'yomi of houri, but its official reading is actually パイナップル (painappuru, "pineapple" in katakana.) There's nothing quite like trying every possible exotic on'yomi reading you can think of to look up an unfamiliar kanji compound, only to realize that you were way off and the answer was actually freakin' "pineapple".
Anyway, you'll usually see 仏 in the Buddhist sense as part of a compound, and it's almost always read BUTSU. (The BUTSU and FUTSU readings themselves are approximations of the sound of the word "Buddha"; the original Chinese character predates Buddhism.) There's a famous huge Buddha statue in Nara called the daibutsu (大仏, "big Buddha"). Buddhism itself is 仏教 (bukkyou, "Buddha teachings"). Less commonly, 仏 stands alone with its kun'yomi of hotoke, and it can mean a Buddha or a kind-hearted and gentle Buddha-like person. France is written as 仏 only in formal-sounding compounds; if you want to talk about France in general, say furansu and write it in katakana, but if you want to talk about a French-German-Italian-Japanese Pineapple Treaty, say 仏独伊日鳳梨盟約 (futsu-doku-i-nichi-painappuru-meiyaku). And don't actually write pineapple with the defunct ateji unless you want people to think you're a huge dork (which is probably not a concern if you're already writing about fictional multinational pineapple treaties.) Got that?
In summary, the meaning of France associated with this character is a phonetic approximation based on a previous phonetic approximation that has nothing to do with the meaning of the original Chinese character, and the Japanese character is even written differently from the Chinese one. Mon dieu!
Bonus four-character compound, lest you thought I was going to post something without demons or devils in it: 鬼面仏心 (kimenbusshin), which literally means "devil face, Buddha heart" and refers to someone who looks fierce but is really a good-natured softy. Note that the butsu contracts to bus- before the shin sound.