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I went on zdic.net to find out about 乔. It says in the 详细 section,

会意。从夭,从高省,高亦声。夭,象人(大)行走的样子。本义:高

To my understanding, when a character is of the 会意 type, part of the character might be both phonetic and symbolic. So according to this, 乔 is derived from 夭 and 高, where 高 also provides a phonetic component (since the traditional script writes 喬). What I don't understand is the usage of 省 in 从高省.

It must mean something, or else my understanding of the description could simply be written as 从夭,高亦声, so what am I missing?

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「省」 means graphically reduced, i.e. not the entire structure of the component is incorporated.

The given definition largely comes from Shuōwén jiězì:

《說文》:“喬,高而曲也。从夭,从高省。《詩》曰:‘南有喬木。’”

and since Shuōwén jiězì descriptions are linked to Shuōwén small seal script shapes, by looking at these shapes the description would make more sense.

 
喬
 
 
夭
 
 
高
 

Basically, Shuōwén thinks that 「喬」 is 「夭」 on top of 「高」 with its top 「亠」 removed, hence its description of the 「高」 part as graphically reduced (省).


To my understanding, when a character is of the 会意 type, part of the character might be both phonetic and symbolic.

No, 「會意」 means compound semantic, that is, all components hint at meaning. If something is simultaneously a semantic and phonetic component, the literature normally says something like 「从X从Y、Y亦聲」, e.g.

《說文》:“墨,書墨也。从土,从黑,黑亦聲。”


By the way, that description

《說文》:“喬,高而曲也。从夭,从高省。《詩》曰:‘南有喬木。’”

is incorrect, 「夭」 does not give a meaning hint in 「喬」, and is the result of graphical corruption.

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  • So does the Shuowen description contract its mistake from the fact that its definition for 喬 is “高而曲也”? Does 曲 mean frail or misshapen or something like that in this case? – David Dong Feb 22 at 4:24
  • @DavidDong I didn't want to add details as that detracts from the main Q&A, if you're interested you could ask a separate question like "Glyph origins of 「喬」". – dROOOze Feb 22 at 4:37

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