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What's the story behind this character 频? Neither of its components contribute phonetically to it, yet I can't seem to relate any of its components 步 steps and head/face 页 to its meaning of frequent/repeated.

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「頻」 was created from omitting 「氵・水」 from 「瀕・𩕨」. While 「瀕」 remained as a character used for its original meaning, the newly created 「頻」 was used as a phonetic loan meaning frequent.


時期
字體
字形 參考資料
西周
瀕 㝬簋
集成4317
戰國
𩕨 壹・皇門5
清華戰簡

𩕨 頻部
說文解字

陶文
𩕨 263
古陶文字徵

陶文
頻 263
古陶文字徵
西漢
璽印
頻 漢印文字徵
東漢
頻 陰面
華嶽廟殘碑

頻


瀕
 

瀕
 

「頻」 was originally 「瀕」 (riverbank), comprised of semantic 「涉」 (picture of feet/footprints next to a body of water > to wade across water) and semantic 「頁」 (picture of a person with an exaggerated head/eye).


𩕨
 

𩕨
 

𩕨
 

The 「水」 part of 「涉」 was often written in the middle of 「步」, leading to the side-by-side structure 「⿰𣥿頁」 instead.


𩕨
 

頻
 

頻
 

頻
 

頻
 

The side-by-side structure was prone to corruption. More specifically, 「水」 tended to be squeezed out and omitted, forming 「頻」.


From this, we can see that 「頻」 is just a shape variant of 「瀕」, and originally shared the same definition as 「瀕」. From the Classic of Poetry: Major Court Hymns: Decade of Dàng:

《詩經・大雅・召旻》

池之竭矣、不云自
泉之竭矣、不云自中。
溥斯害矣、職兄斯弘、不烖我躬。

A pool becomes dry; is it not because no water comes to it from its banks?

A spring becomes dry; is it not because no water rises in it from itself?

Great is the injury [all about]. So that my anxious sorrow is increased. Will not calamity light on my person?

Translation by James Legge. See https://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/decade-of-dang.

Later on, while 「瀕」 remained in use as a character representing the word meaning riverbank, the differentiated character 「頻」 started becoming solely used as a phonetic loan character meaning frequent.


References:

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  • It's interesting how in this instance, the left and right components got swapped places.
    – Sweeper
    Apr 1 at 12:51
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频 is simplefield Chinese. 頻 is traditional Chinese.

步 means step and 页 means head in ancient Chinese. 频 is explained as "Nod your head for each step." literally. It extended meaning to "frequent" or "repeat". Imagining that you are frequenting/repeating noding your head for each step.

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