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Glenn

希 and 稀

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Glenn

So I'd been under the impression that 希 had a basic meaning of "hope" or "wish", but I've seen it in words like 希少, and thought that was some misuse. Then I saw this in 國語辭典:

部首 巾 部首外筆畫 4 總筆畫 7

注音一式 ㄒ|

漢語拼音 xī 注音二式 shī

少有、不多。通「稀」。如:「希罕」、「物以希為貴」、「人生七十古來希」。論語˙公冶長:「不念舊惡,怨是用希。」

That's the first definition given. So I wondered whether 希 was the original character that meant "few" and 稀 came along later to disambiguate that meaning, so I tried to find 希 in 說文解字, but it doesn't seem to be in there, so now I'm here asking if anyone knows what the story with this character is. Was it originally the "few" character and the "hope/wish" meanings got stuck on it later, with 稀 taking over the "few" meaning? Or is there some other story here?

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xiaocai

Copied and pasted from:

book 1:段玉裁注《说文解字》:

稀(恕略)许书无希字。而希声字多有。与由声字正同。不得云无希字、由字也。许时夺之。今不得其说解耳。香衣切。十五部。

book 2:汉字字源──当代新说文解字 buy 窦文宇 and 窦勇:

希:篆文“希”字由两个叉和“巾”构成。叉形是相交的示意图,引申表示交战。“巾”字有权杖的含义,引申表示权力。整个字的意思是通过交战取得权力的继承权。交战的目的是希望获得继承权,由此产生希望的含义。通过交战方式获得继承权在权力继承中占少数,由此产生“希罕”的含义。汉字隶定时形成现在的写法。

稀:由“禾”和“希”构成。“希”字有“希罕”的含义。整个字的意思是田里的禾苗少,由此产生稀疏的含义。引申表示浓度小和稀少。

Well, that was all I could find. As for how much to believe is up to your own discretion.

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Glenn

I understood a heck of a lot more of the "book 2" quote than I did the "book 1" quote, that's for sure, but where did you get that from? I didn't see a link anywhere in your post. The "book 2" explanation is interesting, even if it turns out to be not accurate. Thanks! :D

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Altair

Xiaocai, thanks for posting the explanations.

I also had trouble understanding some of the quote from Book 1. What, for instance, do 恕略 and 由声字 mean? I found Book 2 quite interesting, but my "discretion" does indeed find the explanation a little far fetched.

What I have assumed is the following:

depicted crossed strands (爻) over cloth (巾) and was used to convey the meaning "fine." "Fine" was then extended to the meaning "rare."

The other meanings are then perhaps extended meanings, since to "consider something to be rare" comes close to the meanings "desire," "yearn for," and "hope for." Ancient Chinese seems to have had some kind of affix (perhaps a suffixed "s") that was often not represented by the characters and that sometimes survives in a changed tone and/or a changed initial in modern Mandarin. This suffix lent a kind of causative meaning to verbs. This causative meaning was often used to express the meaning "consider something to be X." An example is the character 王. Pronounced as wang2, it meant "king." Pronounced with the literarly pronunciation wang4, it meant "consider to be king."

As for , I like the explanation that the added 禾 radical was used to make the character refer to the thinness of rice gruel and thus confer the meaning "thin." This meaning "thin" was then extended to mean "sparse."

Since these two characters probably originally represented the same spoken word and since "rare" and "sparse" are close in meaning, I think that these characters became somewhat confused in these meanings so that 稀 is often used where 希 was probably originally more appropriate.

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xiaocai

Hmm, maybe it is because book 1 was written more than 200 years ago.

恕略 was inserted by myself though. I did not bother to type the original text from 说文解字 since the focus here is more on the possible reason that why 说文解字 did not include 希. It just means "excuse me for not quoting the full text". :)

由声字 means characters with 由 as their 声旁, such as 油, 邮, 柚, etc, similar to the relationship between 希 and 稀, 浠, 郗...

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