As far as I know, the character for "ice" is 冰, and the radical derived from it is 冫 . I find it a bit weird that the ice radical 冫 is the radical for the ice character 冰 itself (ice + water = ice again?), but I am happy to just accept that. I know a few characters with the ice radical, e.g. 次, 习 or 冷, and that seems perfectly fine to me.

However, there are a few things that confuse me.

(1) The Wiktionary list of characters with the 冫 radical contains the following two characters: 冬, 冭. Where in these characters is the 冫? Are the two lines at the bottom supposed to be the ice radical?

(2) When I look at the entry for 永 in the Chinese dictionary app on my phone (Pleco), then it says that it's radical is 水 and that it has 冫 as a component. This makes no sense to me. If 水 was the radical, shouldn't it be written as 氵? And where is the 冫? I see that 永 differs from 水 by two lines at the top, but is this really supposed to be the ice "radical" 冫? (I it's the 冫 radical, how can 水 be a radical of 永 at the same time?)

(3) In the Wiktionary entry for 冫 , it says that 冫 is a radical that has been simplified from 氷. What character is 氷? It doesn't seem to be a Chinese character. Is this some ancient form of 冰?

  • I don't know what level of Chinese you aimed at. I'm pretty sure most Chinese don't know the answer to this. The Chinese Character is not alphabetical. Unless you are archaeologist, you can do well without knowing these rules (if there really are any). – George Chen Sep 2 '14 at 2:18
  • 氷 is a variant of 冰。The radicals of 习、冬 is 勹,夂,not 冫。 冭 is not used today,a ancient character for 太 and 泰。 Your question makes me confused too,I don't know why,I have never thought about that sort of things, those can't be split explicitly left and right,top and bottom,or outer and inner part,like 日、月、 山、水、牛、羊、犬、隹、人、止、子、戈、矢 – wolfrevo Sep 2 '14 at 2:27
  • 1
    i'm afraid statements like '夂 is the radical of 冬' or '冫 is the radical of 冬' do not make sense, strictly speaking. radicals are a (rather late) intellectual fabrication by (most importantly) 許慎 Xu Shen and 梅膺祚 Mei Yingzuo who singled out character components to base their dictionaries (說文解字 and 字彙) on. individual characters have often been re-assigned to other radicals when the authors thought it would benefit readers. so only '冬 is found under 夂 in source A, but 冫 in source B' makes sense. – flow Sep 2 '14 at 11:49
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Brief Answer

Q1. The Wiktionary list of characters with the 冫 radical contains the following two characters: 冬, 冭. Where in these characters is the 冫? Are the two lines at the bottom supposed to be the ice radical?

Answer: You're right. That's true.

Q2. When I look at the entry for 永 in the Chinese dictionary app on my phone (Pleco), then it says that it's radical is 水 and that it has 冫 as a component. This makes no sense to me. If 水 was the radical, shouldn't it be written as 氵? And where is the 冫? I see that 永 differs from 水 by two lines at the top, but is this really supposed to be the ice "radical" 冫?

Answer: The radical of 永 is 水, but it doesn't have the radical 冫. The top of 永 has nothing to do with 冫.

Q3. In the Wiktionary entry for 冫 , it says that 冫 is a radical that has been simplified from 氷. What character is 氷? It doesn't seem to be a Chinese character. Is this some ancient form of 冰?

Answer: 氷 was the vulgar form of 冰 in ancient China. It's obsolete in China but adopted in Japan nowadays. As @AngelLeliel has pointed out, 冫 is not a radical simplified from 氷, but 仌.


Detailed Answer

This is a very good question, yet, as a native speaker I understand some of the "truth" are controversial. Anyway the facts will be listed here, but you don't have to agree with my subjective opinion :)

Fact 1. 次, 习 have the "ice radical"? No, it's not fine with experts in mainland China or people who use traditional Chinese.

In 现代汉语词典 (Modern Chinese Dictionary, which is considered as one of the most popular authoritative dictionary in mainland China), is indexed under the radical 冫 and the radical 欠. However in 中華民國教育部重編國語辭典修訂本 (Chinese Dictionary Revised Edition, the authoritative one in Taiwan), it is indexed only under 欠.

The reason for Chinese Dictionary Revised Edition not listing 次 under radical 冫 is 次 has nothing to do with 冰. The ancient character forms of 次 are
次from Shuowen, 次秦简from bamboo scripts of Qin, 次甲骨次甲骨二from oracle scripts. It is clear that after later oracle scripts, 二 defines the main meaning of 次 as "the second". 说文段注 Duan's Annotation to Shuowen in Qing Dynasty said "當作从二,从欠。从二故爲次。" (次 should have radicals 二 and 欠. Having the radical 二 thus it's the second.) It is interesting that all major dictionaries haven't put 次 under the 二 radical. Personally I think that's because they all follow the convention of Shuowen.

The simplified character is under the radicals 𠃌 (乙) and 冫 in the Modern Chinese Dictionary. However the corresponding traditional character 習 has the radical 羽 (feather of birds). It's clear: 習from Shuowen, 習甲習甲2from oracle scripts, 習楚簡from bamboo scripts of Chu. However note that Shuowen's "从羽从白" (having the radicals 羽 and 白) theory is not true -- there're material evidence from oracle and bamboo scripts proving the bottom part is not 白 but 日. The character just illustrated "birds study flying on a sunny day", so it meant "study" (opinion from Guo Moruo's 卜辭通纂考釋).

Now you may feel dissatisfied for the way that dictionaries of simplified Chinese classify 次 and 习. However, if you forget the whole story above, it may be the only way you can find it in a dictionary for the simplified character forms. 二 in 次 or feather in 习 have been written as 冫 for a long history as it's more convenient (OK I think some experts may insist my referring to Taiwan's standard glyphs 國字標準字體 here but let's not go so far if you're not learning traditional Chinese). So if you don't care about the etymology, keep considering 冫 is the radical of 次 and 习 can be a self-consistent theory in your mind. I guess that's what the experts think when they compile the dictionaries for simplified Chinese.

Fact 2. A not-so-exact-but-easy theory "两点冰,三点水,四点火" -- two points denote "ice"; three points denote "water"; four points denote "fire".

Let's see the original character 仌 for 冰:
仌from bronze scripts, 仌from Shuowen.
It illustrated the texture on ice, and became two horizontal strokes when coming to clerical scripts:
冬 => 冬, 冰 => 冰.
Thus when it came to regular scripts, the "two points" under 冬 and 冭 were written as two "down point", and the "two points" on the left of 冰 were written as 冫, possibly for the aesthetic reason.

Similarly, 氵 came from what 水 was written in bamboo scripts of Qin:
河注沙

It is a rarely known fact that 氵 appeared in Qin state before the seal scripts became the standard in the early Qin Dynasty:
河注沙沙, the left component is 水 in seal scripts.

Thus, as 氵 and 水 stand for the same thing, water, they often shared the same entry of indices in ancient Chinese dictionaries like Kangxi Dictionary.

Similarly again, 灬 often stands for 火, fire. 灬 and 火 shared the same entry of indices in Kangxi Dictionary.

Fact 3. 永 has several versions of explanation, but none of them is related to "冫ice". 永

《說文》:“永,長也,象水巠理之長。《詩》曰:‘江之永矣’。”高鴻縉《中國字例》:“按:此‘永’字,即潛行水中之‘泳’字之初文。原从人在水中行,由文人彳生意,故託以寄游泳之意……後人借用為長永,久而為借意所專,乃加水旁作‘泳’以還其原。”《說文新證》:“从`彳’表示水行,`卜’形象水巠理,全字象河水流行,巠理衍長之貌。`卜’形或訛為人形,於是其旁又增象水形的曲筆。"
Shuowen: "永, long, illustrates the length of a river. Classic of Poetry says 'The length of the Jiang (river), cannot be navigated with a raft'"

Gao Hongjin's 中國字例 Examples of Chinese Characters: "Note: this character 永 is the original character of 泳 that denotes diving and swimming in the water. In the beginning its semantic element is people swimming in the water, the 人 and 彳 parts, so it's borrowed to mean swimming ... later it's borrowed to mean 長永 (permanent, with the same sound), and stuck to this meaning for a long time, so 水 was added making it 泳 to denote the original meaning swimming."

說文新證: "彳 denotes moving, 卜 illustrates a river. The whole character illustrates a running river, meaning the view of a long river. The shape of 卜 might be wrongly written as the shape of people 人, so curves are added to illustrate the shape of water."

  • Very informative ! :) +1 – Sektor Sep 2 '14 at 12:36

If you want to study character's origin, you have to look up references like 說文解字 instead of Wiktionary, which may be incomplete or incorrect.

The original character of 冰 is 仌. You may look up the original text of 說文解字 here. When it is in 冬, it becomes two lines at the bottom as you describe.

冫is not simplified from 氷, but 氷 is simplified from 冰, which is a modern variant of old character 仌/冫.

永 is pictograph of long running water.

次 does not have the radical 冫, its radical should be 欠 and the other compound is 二/two/second.

  • 1
    as commented above, it can be argued that 二 should be considered the radical of 次. then again, there are many characters with two or more semantic components, and you'd have to single out for the purpose of sorting them into a dictionary. also, even Kangxi's dictionary has hundreds, maybe thousands of characters that have been assigned rather arbitrary radicals just so they could put them somewhere. – flow Sep 2 '14 at 11:57

氷 is just equal to 冰 from pronunce to meaning. But modern Chinese doesn't use this character, Japanese use it as 冰. 永 is made part by 水, so it is considered radicals by 水 (not 冫), and actually it's orgininal meaning in ancient Chinese is long water or water long in writing sequence, that's how it is contacted with water. And it's meaning transfered to long later, and now it most means forever. 冬 radicals by 夂, not 冫,冭 radicals by 冫, I believe it's just a simple character disassembly without meaning.

  • 冬 radicals by 冫, not 夂. 康熙字典 教育部國語字典 說文解字 從仌 – AngelLeliel Sep 2 '14 at 3:19
  • 冬 radicals by 夂, 新华字典, maybe that's the difference between simplified and tradional chinese. – user6269 Sep 2 '14 at 3:24
  • 冬 radicals by 冫for more than a thousand of years. It is indeed the difference between simplified and traditional Chinese. – AngelLeliel Sep 2 '14 at 3:33
  • 1
    If you mention for history for thousand of years, you will find 冬 both radicals by 夂 and by 冫instead, it comes from 説文解字, 冬,四時盡也。从仌,从夂。 – user6269 Sep 2 '14 at 3:49
  • 1
    从仌从夂 means "仌 and 夂 are semantic components". The radical is "a graphical component of a Chinese character under which the character is traditionally listed in a Chinese dictionary". The semantic component and the radical are not always the same. Although 說文 has both radical 夂 and radical 仌, 冬 is only listed under 仌. – Stan Sep 2 '14 at 13:17

Hopefully, this explanation can be somewhat helpful.

  1. " [冫]" denotes "ice", so most of the words with " 冫" relate to " cool, cold, low temperature, etc."
  2. " [氵]" denotes "water", so most of the words with " 氵" relate to " river, sea, rain, etc."
  3. " [灬]" denotes "fire", so most of the words with " 灬" relate to " fire, hot, high temperature, etc."

There are more explanations for radicals learning here: http://www.decodemandarinchinese.com/search?q=radical&f_collectionId=5485fbc8e4b0fbc1be3e1abe 冫, 氵 and 灬

The core confusion surrounding「冫」still hasn't been addressed at present. Firstly, please take note of the comment by @Flow -

i'm afraid statements like '夂 is the radical of 冬' or '冫 is the radical of 冬' do not make sense, strictly speaking. radicals are a (rather late) intellectual fabrication by (most importantly) 許慎 Xu Shen and 梅膺祚 Mei Yingzuo who singled out character components to base their dictionaries (說文解字 and 字彙) on. individual characters have often been re-assigned to other radicals when the authors thought it would benefit readers. so only '冬 is found under 夂 in source A, but 冫 in source B' makes sense.

Radicals are arbitrary organisational tools in dictionaries; whether a character "contains" a radical is not the right question. If the dictionary maker decides to group a character under a radical (dictionary header), then it is a done deal.

A similarly ambiguous question can be asked for English:

Does the word Éclair start with E?

The answer really depends on the dictionary you're looking at - if É does not exist as a dictionary header in your dictionary, then Éclair would be grouped under E.

Most problems can be solved by starting from the following facts:

  1. 「冫」was the original shape of「仌」, and alternatively serves as a reduced form of「呂」.「仌」and「呂」are very closely related in both shape and meaning (but not sound).

    • 「冫」was not simplified from「仌」; this description is backwards.
  2. Due to the simplicity of the shape of「冫」, it was frequently interchanged or confused with the shape of「二」and/or other two stroke components. Of course,「冫」and「二」are not related in meaning or in sound.

  3. 「仌」(bīng) is a phonetic loan (假借) - it did not originally mean ice.

    • Later on,「仌」completely took on the meaning of ice.
  4. 「冰」was not originally bīng, it was the original character for「凝」(níng).


「呂」and「仌」both originally depicted metal plates, as obtained from a smelting process.「冫」was the original shape of「仌」and also serves as an abbreviation/reduced/component form of「呂」.

「呂」

enter image description here

合集29687
「仌」
西周
enter image description here
⿱𠂤一丞卣
集成5318
「冰」(凝)
・金
enter image description here
陳逆簋
集成4096
「冬」

enter image description here
日乙227
 
「仌」

enter image description here
說文解字
 
「冰」(凝)

enter image description here
說文解字
 
「仌」
現代・
enter image description here

 
「冰」
現代・楷
enter image description here

 

「呂」was specifically used to refer to copper plates, sometimes written as「鋁」(which is now repurposed for aluminium). The component「冫」, as either「呂」or「仌」, often serves as a semantic component in early characters to do with condensation/solidification「凝」, smelting「冶」, metals「金」, and from the latter by extension a unit of weight「勻」.

  • Early forms of「金」explicitly displayed「冫」, but「冫」eventually multiplied and/or migrated to other places.


    西周・金
    enter image description here
    利簋
    集成4131

    西周・金
    enter image description here
    師同鼎
    集成2779

    戰齊・金
    enter image description here
    陳侯因敦
    集成4649

    秦・簡
    enter image description here
    睡・日甲90
     

    現代・楷
    enter image description here

     

  • 「勻」was the original character for「鈞」, which was an ancient unit of weight.

The word for metal plates, originally written as「冫/仌」, is now written as「鉼」(Fanqie: 必郢; Pinyin: bǐng). The phonetic similarity between this word and ice (Fanqie: 筆陵, Pinyin: bīng) allowed「仌」to be used as a phonetic loan, hence ice was first written as「仌」.

From this point on,「仌」was exclusively interpreted as ice with sound 筆陵切, and is used as a semantic component to do with coldness (「冷」,「寒」, ...) or phonetic component sounding something like 筆陵切 (「馮」,「㓈」, ...).


Answering the queries directly:

1. I find it a bit weird that the ice radical 冫 is the radical for the ice character 冰 itself (ice + water = ice again?)

As mentioned earlier,「仌」was the original character for ice, while「冰」was the original character for「凝」(to freeze/solidify/condense). Please carefully note the Shuowen description and phonology:

《說文》:“冰,水堅也。从仌,从水。(魚陵切)凝,俗冰从。”

「冰」, water becoming solidified. From semantic「仌」and semantic「水」. (Fanqie decomposition 魚陵 )「凝」, vulgar form of「冰」constructed from 「疑」.

For reference,「疑」is decomposed as 語其切 and serves as a phonetic component in「凝」.

「冰」was later on used as a replacement for「仌」(筆陵切 bīng), forcing the creation of a new character「凝」to take over the representation of the meaning to freeze/solidify/condense (魚陵切 níng).


2. I know a few characters with the ice radical, e.g. 次, 习 or 冷 ...

This is incorrect - out of those three, only「冷」contains「冫」. As mentioned earlier, the simplicity of the shape of「冫」caused it to be confused with other strokes. However, as others mentioned, even if things don't really contain「冫」, if they contain two simple strokes like「冫」they may be grouped under「冫」in a dictionary for convenience.

「次」(second-rate, inferior; Baxter–Sagart OC: /*[s-n̥]i[j]-s/, MC: /t͡sʰiɪH/, Fanqie: 七四切, Pinyin: ) comes from:

  • Simultaneously semantic and phonetic component「二」(two; second; Baxter-Sagart OC: /*ni[j]-s/, MC: /ȵiɪH/, Fanqie: 而至切, Pinyin: èr);

  • Semantic component「欠」(picture of a person with their mouth open > lack).

  • Glyph change:


    春秋・金
    enter image description here
    王子嬰次盧
    集成10386

    秦・簡
    enter image description here
    睡・封49
     

    現代・楷
    enter image description here

     

「习」is a reduction from「習」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*s-ɢʷəp/, MC: /ziɪp̚/, Fanqie: 似入切, Pinyin: ), which comes from

  • Semantic「日」;
  • Phonetic「彗」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*s-[ɢ]ʷe[t]-s/, MC: /ziuɪH/, /ɦˠiuᴇiH/, /ziuᴇiH/, Fanqie: 徐醉切, 于歲切, 祥歲切, Pinyin: huì).
  • Glyph change of「習」:


    商・甲
    enter image description here
    920
    合集31671

    ・簡
    enter image description here
    包2・223
     

    現代・楷
    enter image description here

     

  • For reference,「彗」originally depicted an ancient household broom (i.e. a sweeping tool). The hand「彐」was later added to emphasise the act of sweeping.


    商・甲
    enter image description here
    863
    合集9780


    enter image description here
    說文解字
     

    現代・楷
    enter image description here

     


3. The Wiktionary list of characters with the 冫 radical contains the following two characters: 冬, 冭. Where in these characters is the 冫? Are the two lines at the bottom supposed to be the ice radical?

Same kind of explanation as 2. Dictionaries may list characters under the radical「冫」if they have a shape similar to「冫」.「冬」actually contains「冫」(look towards the end of this answer for the glyph origins of「冬」), while「冭」is a variant of「太」, created by adding two marks onto「大」.


4. When I look at the entry for 永 in the Chinese dictionary app on my phone...

The Kangxi dictionary organisation lists it under radical 85「水」, which can be seen here.「冫」does not appear in「永」, but rather the last two strokes of「永」 is treated as an arbitrary two strokes similar to「冫」, hence Pleco "decomposes"「永」into「冫」.

Please see the second half of this answer for the glyph origins of「永」.

Others have addressed what「氷」is. To reiterate,「冫」is not simplified from「氷」; it is an original character that was not simplified from anything.


References:

  • 季旭昇《說文新證》
  • 何琳儀《戰國古文字典︱戰國文字聲系》
  • 裘錫圭《文字學概要》
  • 小學堂
  • 國學大師

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