I have noticed that a cat and dog share the same radical, which is 犭dog (quǎn).

So, if we break the words down:

猫 cat (māo) = 犭dog (quǎn) + 艹 cǎo (grass) + 田 tián (field)

狗 dog (gǒu) = 犭dog (quǎn) + 勹 bāo (wrap) + 口 kǒu (mouth)

I have two questions:

1) Why a dog radical has the dog in it with other components?

2) Why a cat has the dog radical it in?

These words are not difficult to remember. For a cat, I use 'meow', which is somehow similar to māo. For a dog, I stick to 'Go, go, dog!', which sounds a bit like gǒu.

However, I am curious about the origin of these words.

Thank you in advance.

  • 1. Both 狗 and 貓 are 形聲字. 2. Nobody says 犭 can only be used for Canidae. – user3a Jan 15 '17 at 12:10
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The radical in 猫 actually comes from 豸 zhi4 (beast), which you can still see in the traditional character 貓.

Whereas the radical in 狗 is in fact 犭 quan3.

The simplified version of 猫 got the 犭 quan3 radical because of trait reduction and semantic affinity (dog -> beast).

If it sounds easier to you, you can think of 犭 quan3 in simplified Chinese as generically referring to an animal, as in 狼 (wolf), 狮 (lion), 猴 (monkey), 狐 (fox) and words relating to animals as 猎 (hunt).

As for your other question:

1) Why a dog radical has the dog in it with other components?

The dog radical 犭 comes from 犬 which is a pictogram, still used in some words today, especially dog breeds. No radicals other than the image itself. Here you can see an evolution of the picture. (Source: Wenlin, and possibly 说文解字).

enter image description here

If you are talking about the modern character 狗 gou3, it comes from the semantic/radical 犭 quan3 plus the phonetic part 句 ju4. It was probably a colloquial or popular name for "dog" which has made it into the standard language, whereas 犬 keeps a more classical and scientific flavor.

  • Thank you very much for the detailed explanation. The picture is very interesting. You have made my day. I am very happy that I have learned something new today. – Luzing Jan 15 '17 at 12:49
  • Glad it was of help! – TXV Jan 15 '17 at 20:58
  • The phonetic part 句 has another pronunciation gou3, exactly the same as 狗 – jf328 Jan 17 '17 at 12:07
  • I cannot find reference of the gou3 pronunciation. It appears to have gou1, (and some sources list also gou4) probably as a variant of 勾. Do you have any links? – TXV Jan 17 '17 at 12:24
  • @TXV zdic.net/z/16/xs/53E5.htm – Graham Ou Apr 7 '17 at 15:54

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