2 Answers 2


Neither is correct.

The "radical system" as mentioned in your question is just merely an indexing technique and nothing more. There is little reason to read any more into it than that.

As for 笑 itself, you can take a look at the definition from Outlier:

笑 was originally composed of grass (艹, now written 𥫗) and dog (犬, now written 夭). Its meaning in early texts is “to smile from joy.” One scholar suggests that the original meaning may be “the joy that dogs feel when they come upon a grassy field.” [Reference, p. 250-251; Reference, p. 875]

The references given are:

  • 杜忠誥,2002《說文篆文訛形釋例》,台北市:文史哲出版社,2009年2月初版修訂。
  • 王力 主編,2000《王力古漢語字典》,北京:中華書局,2007年重印。

It is assumed the original meaning was, rather specifically, “the joy that dogs feel when they come upon a grassy field.”

This does make 笑 a rather unique character if their theories are correct as most Chinese characters are phono-semantic compounds.


This is also a possible explanation: originally, 'books' were rolls of bamboo strips

笑 Decomposition notes 字形分解说明 [?]:
(- 犬 dog who tries to read a book 竹 is funny)

I could understand that a cow might feel joy seeing a luscious grassy field, but a dog? Not much to lift your leg at!

  • There is also another "explanation" See how happy a giant panda is when chewing on some bamboo? Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 1:16
  • Are you suggesting the lower part of 笑, 夭 is actually 熊? The etymologies I consulted say 夭 is actually 犬。
    – Pedroski
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 3:55
  • A bear, of which I believe the panda is a close relative, is called a 狗熊? Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 4:27

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