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Good question! They're sort of a vague indicator of semantic distance. If the semantic component's meaning is very close to the character's meaning, we'll use "indicate." A bit further, and we'll say "points to." If it's a looser connection, we'll say "hints at." There's some subjectivity to it, of course, but we wanted to break up the monotony somewhat, without doing it in a random way.

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Thanks. To clarify this concept of semantic distance, you are not saying that you have less confidence (with a "hint", say) that a component is a semantic component, right?


But rather that, whereas it's hard to imagine a semantic component in 她 not being a component that means 'woman', in 作 the 亻 (for 'people') could quite easily have had a different semantic component (e.g. a 扌) or indeed none at all?

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Well, anything could have had different components, and often did. Components with compatible meanings were swapped out all the time, especially in Warring States script. 亻 could be swapped for 女卩身尸大 etc., as all have to do with people. 糸巾帛布幺 etc. often got swapped for each other too, as they all have to do with textiles. We ended up with the characters we have in the modern script due in some ways to historical coincidence.


So we're not indicating uncertainty or a lower level of confidence, or that something could have been something else. We're simply indicating how close the semantic relationship is between the character's meaning and that of its semantic component.

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