67. The "Literature" Radical: 文
Although literature is often quite complicated, that's not true of the "literature" radical, 文. That is, this four-stroke radical barely has enough presence in the Joyo set to pose any complications.
On Duty and Off
This radical is on duty in the following kanji:
文 (68: letter, character, writings)
斑 (2098: spot)
It's merely the component in these:
対 (336: opposite; to oppose)
蚊 (1056: mosquito)
紋 (1857: crest; family crest; pattern)
There! That's the sum total of its service in the Joyo world!
To say that 文 plays a part in those kanji may even be generous if one considers strict etymology.
Here's 文 in one of its ancestral forms:
Henshall observes that 文 originally had a different shape and meant "beautifully, intricately patterned overlaid collar." That's quite specific—and nothing like its current meaning, "literature."
Meanwhile, Kanjigen posits that 文 originally meant "intricate patterns" in connection with the elaborate straw-rope patterns (縄文, じょうもん) found on prehistoric Japanese pottery. The same source notes that because Chinese characters are such intricate drawings, 文 came to mean "letter, character." And because these characters "decorate" people's lives in intricate ways, 文 later acquired the meaning of "culture" (as in 文化, ぶんか: culture).
In 紋 (1857: crest; family crest; pattern), the 文 is true to this earlier meaning of "intricate pattern," says Henshall. Kanjigen says, in fact, that 紋 was originally written as 文.
Henshall doesn't cover 斑 (2098: spot, speckle) in his current edition, and Kanjigen doesn't say what role that middle component plays in the character. However, it would make sense if the 文 again meant "intricate pattern," given that 斑 often pops up in words having to do with patterns. For instance, there's this wonderful-looking word, which has an ABAB pattern with 王 and 文 shapes:
斑文 (はんもん: speckles; spotted pattern)
By contrast, the history of the 文 shape has no bearing on the remaining two kanji in our list. According to Henshall, the left side of 対 (336) used to be 業, meaning "musical instrument." The current 文 is a simplification that has nothing to do with literature. And in 蚊 (1056), the 文 merely contributes the ブン sound, which is apparently the sound mosquitoes make!
Photo Credit: Yoshikazu Kunugi
Here are the other kanji in the picture:
第二 (だいに: second; number 2)
芭蕉 (ばしょう: name of a famous 17th-century haiku poet who traveled through Matsushima and was deeply impressed by its beauty)
-丸 (-まる: suffix for ship names)
塩釜 (しおがま: place name
松島 (まつしま: place name)
The Basho cruise goes between Shiogama and Matsushima.
Names of the Radical
Joy o' Kanji calls 文 the "literature" radical. So does Nelson, who uses the nickname "literary." Another possibility is the "script" radical.
As for Japanese names, we can generally refer to the 文 radical as ぶん.
Not the Radical Here
The 文 radical looks like it would be a component in a few other kanji, such as these:
斎 (1291: purification, abstinence)
斉 (1473: equal; alike)