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When learning Chinese characters using radicals, this character 校 always seem to puzzle me. I've always known 校 to be school, but the "wood" radical never made any sense to me. What does wood or tree have to do with school? Why not use a radical that is related to buildings (广 or 宀) or even children (as in 学). My research on shuowen says that the original meaning was some sort of beam where prisoners' legs were shackled to. This to me makes sense even with the phonetic 交 representing a prisoner shackled to a leg brace with his legs crossed. My question is when, and how did 校 suddenly come to mean "school"?

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    I read the title and was curious as well until I saw "beam where prisoners were shackled to" and now I think its pretty self explanatory – 小奥利奥 Oct 3 '20 at 0:33
  • @小奥利奥 A bit more straightforward and honest than you'd normally expect, though, eh? – Calion Jan 3 at 17:14
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Outlier

xiào
○ school

Here the ○ icon is an indicator of a phonetic loan. So, basically it is just a:

character that is "borrowed" to write another homophonous or near-homophonous morpheme

It seems that the earliest reading was jiào and not xiào; 校 was just borrowed for its close proximity in sound.

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Please note "学校" is not a Chinese concept at all

this info is incorrect

“學校” as a term, referred to “school”, is quite ancient. even a simple search in ctext.org have 24 occurrences in literatures before 秦 dynasty:

https://ctext.org/pre-qin-and-han/zh?searchu=學校

most of them means “school”, such as:

獨斷 卷上

三代學校之別名:夏曰校,殷曰序,周曰庠

後漢書 列傳 班彪列傳下

是以四海之內,學校如林,庠序盈門,獻酬交錯,俎豆莘莘,下舞上歌,蹈德詠仁。

後漢書 列傳 鄭孔荀列傳

更置城邑,立學校,表顯儒術,薦舉賢良鄭玄、彭璆、邴原等。

My research on shuowen says that the original meaning was some sort of beam where prisoners' legs were shackled to. This to me makes sense even with the phonetic 交 representing a prisoner shackled to a leg brace with his legs crossed

unless you have very strong arguments, stick to what 說文解字 said.

校 木囚也。从木,交聲。

it stated clearly that “交” is the phonetic component. making semantic inference from a phonetic component is, imo, improper.

an analog: in the word “starboard”, “star” provided the sound only. if one argued that “starboard” means “a star shaped board”, because the first four characters means “star”, isn’t it ridiculous?

back to “校”, look at the homophone “效”, this character is older.

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=效

have fun :)

  • Quote:- "an analog: in the word “starboard”, “star” provided the sound only" This is incorrect. "The term starboard derives from the Old English steorbord, meaning the side on which the ship is steered. Before ships had rudders on their centrelines, they were steered with a steering oar at the stern of the ship on the right hand side of the ship, because more people are right-handed" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_and_starboard. Have fun :) – Wayne Cheah Oct 3 '20 at 6:25
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    @WayneCheah, you treat “starboard” as a word. my analog is: divide “starboard” into components “star” + “board”, to compare with “校” -> “木” + “交”. think again 😽 – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 3 '20 at 6:43
  • 涨姿势 了。 Thanks for the info. – James Liu 刘老师 Oct 3 '20 at 9:10
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    "making semantic inference from a phonetic component is, imo, improper"--quite the contrary, it is often appropriate since many semantic+phonetic characters are historically specializations of the phonetic written by itself, e.g. 鯿魚 is derived from 扁魚, 鯨 is the 魚 fish that is 京 big and so on. – John Frazer Oct 4 '20 at 17:55
  • @JohnFrazer, interesting 😸 there’re six writings (六書), so, why do you assign these two characters (鯿, 鯨) into phono-semantic compound characters (形聲字) in the first place? wouldn’t rebus (phonetic loan) characters (假借字) a better choice? have fun 😹 – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 5 '20 at 14:00
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校 was pronounced jiao instead of xiao in the beginning. It was a military term covering quite wide meaning: to inspect the troops; to practice drill; to compete military skills. The place to do so is always a big open field surrounded by high wood fence, hence radical of wood and the place is 校场。 Please note "学校" is not a Chinese concept at all ("学堂“ was used then as all classes are conducted indoor). It was introduced to China in late 19th century by westerners. The biggest difference is there is always a big field for the students to do various activities, and it looks exactly like 校场 with similar functions。 Not suitable to call it 学堂 anymore, so, call it "学校" emphasizing it's for education, not military. I am not sure, but I think the shifting of pronunciation happened around that time also.

  • Now it's clear that "交" purely contribute the phonetic side, not the meaning side. So, it's not wood + embrace. – James Liu 刘老师 Oct 2 '20 at 20:31
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    This doesn’t begin to answer the question(?). – Mou某 Oct 3 '20 at 7:08

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