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隶 lì to catch, Servant 麦 mài wheat, barley

Can anyone suggest unique, etymologically correct mnemonic for the above radicals? Thanks

1 Answer 1

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隶: hold an ox tail on the right hand to catch a slave

隶 is a 會意字 (ideogrammic compounds). enter image description here The upper part is 象形字 (Pictogram) for 又,which upon creation meant right hand. You can see clearly the thumb, the middle finger and the index finger. enter image description here

The lower part is ox tail. The four side strokes are hair on the tail. Thus, the glyph pictures that someone is holding ox tail on his right hand.

The 會意 implication of the glyph comes then naturally from two questions: what is he doing by holding ox tail on his right hand? The answer is to successfully catch someone. This is the first meaning (also extended to mean 及, reach). Now it's written as 逮 dai4. The extra part 夊 sui1 means to walk. The second question is who is caught? The answer is slave. This is the second meaning, now pronounced as li4.


麥:(auspicious) wheat comes (from the almighty sky)

麥 mai4 was originally written as 來 lai2. enter image description here enter image description here

來 is a 象形字 (pictogram), meaning wheat. The horizontal stroke was originally added as a left-falling stroke, intensifying the meaning of ear of wheat.

Ancient Chinese thought 瑞麥天來, which meaning auspicious wheat comes from the almighty. Thus this glyph was then used to mean to come. Later this meaning gained dominance and another glyph 麥 was created to refer to its original meaning, wheat. The added part is a foot plate 夊, concreting the thought of 瑞麥天來.

enter image description here

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  • Thanks for the great explanation of etymology and etymological correct mnemonic.
    – Rachayita
    Jan 23, 2022 at 14:34
  • 麥:auspicious wheat comes from the almighty sky => Could you please elaborate to strict to my mind? where is sky or auspicious in this char?
    – Rachayita
    Jan 23, 2022 at 23:22
  • I put in two brackets: (auspicious) wheat comes (from the almighty sky). It's not explicitly encoded. But the concept is corroborated with other glyph as well as classical documents.
    – lilysirius
    Jan 25, 2022 at 10:41
  • Lilysirius has a very comprehensive answer. You can also recognize that 来 was originally just a sound loan of “wheat.” To distinguish the meanings, they added roots to the character for wheat 麦. It’s also possible that the characters were meant in reverse so that a foot was added to the meaning of “come,” but because of the stark difference in frequency, the usage got switched again so that 麦 was again used to mean “wheat.” Jan 26, 2022 at 1:52

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