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When learning how to write, I had always assumed that the lower component of the left component 䏍 of 能 was just a lower variant of 月. A couple of days ago, however, I decided to look it up, and I found that, at least according to YellowBridge, it is not a variant of 月, but is in fact a lower variant of 肉.

Okay, fair enough. But then I looked-up 青, and I found that, also according to YellowBridge, the lower component here is indeed a lower variant of 月. When I found this out, I figured there would be a subtle, but noticeable difference, between the two (for example, similar to the differences between 己 and 已, or between 口 and 囗, etc.), but after looking at the characters in detail using YellowBridge's "Strokes" tab, I really could not see any noticeable difference between the two.

Is it indeed the case that the lower component of 䏍 is different from the lower component of 青? If so, what is the visual cue to look for to tell the difference between these two components?


  • They're both kangxi radical 74. Wiki says: Radical 74 meaning "moon" or "month" is 1 of 34 Kangxi radicals (214 radicals total) composed of 4 strokes. – user3306356 Sep 16 '15 at 16:15
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    月 and 肉 have merged into one radical. Check this out: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/12402/… – Ringil Sep 16 '15 at 16:48
  • I don't know how simplified Chinese does, but in traditional Chinese, the "actual" two line in ⺼(肉) as the left or bottom component "looks like" the left component of "冷" (Just use its image, there is no any relation with 冷 here), they have angles. In contrast to it, 月, two lines inside are parallel. Many computer typing fonts do not show this different only because the designer of the computer character is not aware of this(Since some designers are Japanese or Chinese, not Taiwanese). There are some fonts that actually designed by Taiwanese and used in Taiwan that show this difference. – CYC Sep 17 '15 at 1:04
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Brief Answers

Is it indeed the case that the lower component of 䏍 is different from the lower component of 青?

Yes in the etymology sense (the lower component of 䏍 is 肉, and the lower component of 青 is 丹), but it's not necessary to distinguish them in your hand writing – though, maybe some teachers, especially those in Taiwan, encourage you to do so – you will soon see the problem: 月 can denote five different components; in practice no one would distinguish all of them in the hand writing!

If so, what is the visual cue to look for to tell the difference between these two components?

  1. In order to reflect the etymology of characters, some fonts distinguish the two components. However, so far, to the best of my knowledge, no font can distinguish the five different components denoted by 月.

  2. Of course, they are sharply distinguished in seal and older scripts.

More Information: Five Different "Forms" of 月

  1. 月 (Moon).

    Seal script: 月

    Kangxi Dictionary: 月:康熙

    Taiwan MOE standard: 月:台标

  2. 肉 (Meat). There is an ideogram coded in Unicode for this special 月, (Note: this special ideogram can only stand for 肉, but cannot stand for other meanings. The entry for 朕 in Yellowbridge says "... boat 舟 (replaced by ⺼)" – that's a mistake). Example: 能

    Seal script: 能

    Kangxi Dictionary: 能:康熙

    Taiwan MOE standard: 能:台标

  3. 舟 (boat). Example: 前 (歬 is an old variant form to reflect the seal script)

    Seal script: 前

    Kangxi Dictionary: 前:康熙

    Taiwan MOE standard: 前:台标

  4. 丹 (well). Example: 青 (𤯞 is an old variant form to reflect the seal script; 靑 is coded in Unicode to reflect 丹, though chaotically not all of characters with a variant component can be coded.)

    Seal script: 青

    Kangxi Dictionary: 青:康熙

    Taiwan MOE standard: 青:台标

  5. 贝 (shell). Example: 朋 (two strings of shells)

    Oracle script:

    朋

    Kangxi Dictionary: 朋:康熙

    Taiwan MOE standard: 朋:台标

  • Amazing details in your brief answers, truly appreciated. If you added detailed answers, I believe you could publish a paper with them :) – Armfoot Sep 17 '15 at 16:16
  • @Stan Wow. Where did you get all this info? – Enrico Brasil Sep 23 '15 at 15:16
  • @EnricoBrasil generally I am using many internet resources and several TB digital documents about Chinese characters. Maybe I can introduce them in some proper place when I am free. – Stan Sep 23 '15 at 15:52
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    @Stan Please do. I am sure many ppl here would be very grateful! =) Cheers – Enrico Brasil Sep 23 '15 at 17:50
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Just adding this to the already answered question to point out a few pertinent things:

(1) the question of whether the 月/⺝ as seen in e.g. 能青育 and so on is really 'the same' or 'different' can be answered on many levels; on some levels, those components are the 'same' (because they 'look the same'), on other levels, they are 'different' (because they historically originate from distinct elements).

(2) to further complicate matters, 月 may be considered a calligraphic variant of ⺝ (just as 戶户戸 may be considered just different ways of writing 'the same').

(3) to further complicate matters, what in modern script looks like 月 and similar has its roots in at least four or five elements that were considered different in Seal script, but thrown together in Clerical script (and hence Normal script), namely 肉月舟丹, as detailed by @Stan.

(4) to further complicate matters, a few select properties of modern Chinese writing have, over the centuries, become the pet peeves of many a self-perceived savior of Chinese writing. I've written about those in some length in https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/12456/3674 and https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/12455/3674, which you may want to peruse. Long story short: (a) if you want to follow the ROC MOE in distinguishing those four 月 forms in your handwriting, do so for fun and profit, but (b) be warned that your writing will still contain endless numbers of 'historically wrong forms'—this is inevitable, because Normal script is at its very heart a 'simplifying' form of the Seal script. Lastly, do keep in mind that (c) it's difficult enough to decide on the 'correct' contemporary forms of characters—to decide where characters have their origin and why is sometimes much harder. Thus, blunders in etymology have been and will be committed, so someone's 月 traced back to 舟 will be someone else's 月 traced back to 肉.

(5) Even those dictionaries that over the centuries served as the models for how to differentiate the four kinds of 月 correctly did not manage to keep their typography free of errors. Frankly what I don't get is why they propose to write the abbreviated forms at all and then go and distinguish four variants with long horizontals, short horizontals, a dot and an upward stroke, and two dots—which is really cumbersome. They should rather go all the way and write 𣦃 or similar instead of 前 (or indeed 歬, if you insist on the Shuowen form), i.e. resurrect all the old forms from their 'corrupted' modern abbreviations, viz. 䒑▶止, 刂▶刀, 月▶舟.

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