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etymology of 甫


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The character 甫 according to Karlgren:


“Personal name taken at 20 years; name; ‘style’; begin, at first, just — the seal has 用 signific and 父 phonetic, the latter badly distorted in the modern form”


according to Laurence Howell:


"The relevant oracle bone form of this character shows a seedling curving upward in spreading from a field or seedbed -> *broad/wide*; *great*. Also, *beginning* (<- beginning of a plant's life cycle) -> *for the first time*. (*Suffix for male names*) is a borrowed meaning."



"capable 用 father 父 (phonetic, altered); man, father; only, just"

now I'm just a layman, but looking at the oracle bone script, it does seem like the original character used 田 rather than 用, and with 屮 and 父 being so similar in form, is it possible the modern character of 甫 is actually a conflation of two separate ideas, 屮田 'beginning' and 父用 ‘name, man etc.'? Has outlier done any research on this? Or if Laurence is still on the forums, I'd also be interested to hear more regarding his explanation.

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I'm not sure I buy vividict's explanation entirely (I'd have to spend a lot more time looking into each form they discuss and the context it appears in to be sure), though they did get some things right. They tend to attach significance and intention to character form corruption, when that's generally not what's going on. For example, they mention a 甲骨文 form of 甫 in which the bottom portion is written similar to 皿, to express the idea of plants being grown in pots. I'd have to look at the actual context that form appears in to know if it's being used that way or not, but that sounds doubtful to me. Not to mention that the portion they're calling 皿 doesn't look like any form of 皿 that I know of, though I could be wrong as I'm not a 甲骨文 specialist.


Here's how I'd explain it.


甫 originally depicted vegetation 屮  in a field 田, and originally meant "garden" (圃之本字). 田 was corrupted to 用, while 屮 was corrupted to 父, which later corrupted to what's now at the top of 甫.


The corruption (which happened early, in the Western Zhou period) from 田 to 用 isn't surprising because the forms were so similar.


There's a Shang bronze (宰甫簋) in which the 屮 had already started to tilt to the left, similar to 又 (note that 父 is a hand 又 holding a rod). At this point, the corruption from 屮 to 父 is a pretty small and entirely unsurprising step, both because the forms have started to look similar and because of phoneticization (聲化). The Baxter-Sagart reconstructions (I've simplified the notation a bit for clarity):


父: *praʔ ("respectful suffix in male names"); *N-praʔ ("father")

甫: *praʔ ("begin"); *praʔ ("great")


Note that vividict says 父 is used because it's men who grow plants in pots. It just seems really unlikely to me that 父 was chosen deliberately for this reason, when it's such a minor and unsurprising corruption that doesn't require intention. Not to mention that I'd have to see evidence that 甫 is being used to talk about men growing plants in pots when that form came about, which I'd be surprised to find (though I'm not saying it's impossible; I'd have to read the bronze it appears on). This sort of corruption is really common, and the phoneticization aspect makes it even more likely to happen than if it were simply a form corruption.


父 later corrupted (in 隸書) into the thing at the top of 甫. Basically the curved stroke outlining the hand straightened out into a horizontal stroke, while the rod the hand is holding separated from the hand to become the dot. Again, a pretty common type of corruption in clerical script.


So to break the modern form down the Outlier way, I'd say something like this:







甫 was originally composed of "vegetation" 屮 (now written [甫 minus 用])  and "field" 田 (now written 用), which indicated the original meaning "garden."


In 甫, 用 is an empty component, a corruption of 田, which was a form component indicating the original meaning "garden."

In 甫, [甫 minus 用] is an empty component, a corruption of 父, the sound component. But the real story is a bit more complicated."


Then I'd put the details I mentioned above (the "real story") in the Expert Edition entry.


Actually, it's possible we'd call [甫 minus 用] a sound component and a variant of 父, but I'd have to spend time looking at a bunch of other characters to decide that. And usually we don't give a component breakdown for characters that are entirely corrupted or composed of empty components, because the point of the breakdown is to help you tie the sound and meaning of the character to its components, which you can't do with empty components, so you just have to learn it as one "unbreakable" unit.

(note: [甫 minus 用] has no Unicode code point, so I can't type it here)

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