10. The "Legs" Radical: 儿

You likely know the 儿 radical from these common characters:

先 (49: ahead; before; last (week, etc.), recently; tip; destination)

元 (106: origin; first; former; era; element; dimension)

光 (116: light; to shine; scenery; honor)

兄 (267: elder brother)

児 (697: child)

In fact, 儿 is the on-duty radical in 10 Joyo kanji.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In Kobe's 元町通 (もとまちどおり) section, apparently shortened to 元町 (もとまち), I spotted this movie theater (映画館, えいがかん). I find the font so compelling that I'm not sure I need a film for entertainment. I especially like what has happened to the  in 元 (106: origin).

What Is 儿 Called in Japanese?

The Japanese refer to the 儿 radical as ひとあし (人足), literally "human legs," but we'll just call it the "legs" radical. 

The sole reason to include "human" in the English name would be to differentiate radical 10 from other leggy radical names. I have found only two:

radical 136, 舛, the "dancing legs" radical

radical 157, 足, primarily the "foot" radical but secondarily the "leg" radical

I don't think we're in any danger of confusing 儿 with those.

Another Japanese name for 儿 is にんにょう (人遶), where the latter kanji represents an enclosure that runs down the left and across the bottom of a character. (To understand this better, see "Radical Terms" and go to the fourth section, looking for radical position 7.) That's true, for instance, of the 辶 in the non-Joyo 遶. However, our radical never fills that role in the Joyo world. Instead, we mostly see the legs underneath kanji, as in the five I listed above.

The craziest thing 儿 ever does in the Joyo sphere happens in this character:

兆 (939: sign; trillion)

That interior position for 儿 is the opposite of an enclosure. 

My proofreader can't think of any kanji—Joyo or non-Joyo—in which 儿 actually works as a 遶, but he says that for some reason Kanjigen lists にんにょう as the main name of our radical. 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The shape of our two-stroke radical never changes unless people cast it in playful fonts, as in the sign above and this one. It's hard to recognize 光 (116: light) here, but it's all the way to the right in this Osaka sign. The name 紫光, read as しこう, probably means “Purple Light.” As the smaller kanji indicate, this shop (which has since shut) sold 時計 (とけい: watches) and 宝石 (ほうせき: jewels), so it was a jewelry store. I like the rendering of 紫光, as it makes me see the components with different eyes. 

Does 儿 Look Like Any Other Radicals?

We've determined that the English radical name "legs" overlaps with two other radical names, but does 儿 resemble any other radicals?

Though it might appear to be part of 見 (18: to see), the entire 見 shape actually serves as radical 147, the "seeing" radical. Henshall says in his newer edition (the source of all etymologies in this Radical Note) that old forms of 見 show an "exaggerated eye" atop a variant for "person," by which he might mean an altered shape of 人. He adds cryptically that the 儿 in 見 sometimes means just "legs." I think he's asserting that in some ancient shapes of 見, the bottom strokes represent "legs" instead of "person," but I'm not positive.

As for the strokes that look like legs in 貝 (90: shellfish; seashell), they aren't. The 貝 shape depicts a "bivalve shell," also doubling as radical 154, the "small shell" radical. 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

A Narita Airport sign provides a triple dose of leggy characters in the lowest kanji line: 免税売店 (めんぜいばいてん: duty-free store). Speaking of duty, our radical is on duty in the first character there:

免 (1849: exemption; permission; dismissal; to forgive)

As for 税 (727: tax, duty), the "grain" radical 禾 (radical 115) matters in that case. Henshall says that the right side originally represented "person looking up and speaking." He mentions nothing about the legs, but perhaps that person has some.

With 売 (192: selling), the "samurai" radical 士 (radical 33) prevails. Henshall discusses an old form of this character that was monstrously complicated and that featured 買 (193: to buy) on the bottom, which brings us back to our legless sea creature!

The rest of the sign is about 香水 (こうすい: perfume) and 化粧品 (けしょうひん: cosmetics).

The Radical as "Person"

I mentioned that 見 originally represented an "exaggerated eye" atop a variant for "person." In fact, means "person" in 7 of Henshall's etymologies for the 10 kanji containing this on-duty radical.

That's true, for instance, in his explanation of 免 (1849: exemption), or at least two scholars see it that way. In a third view, the whole character related to headwear, either a mourning cap or a helmet.

Here are a few more samples of 儿 as "person":

先 (49: ahead; before; last (week, etc.), recently; tip; destination)

This character shows a "foot" on top of a "person." Collectively these components signify "walk ahead, go first." Am I the only one who finds it odd that the foot is on top?! The top may represent "movement," says Henshall, but that doesn't really clear up the issue for me!

元 (106: origin; first; former; era; element; dimension)

In this "side view of a person with (an) exaggeratedly large head," the radical represents "person."

光 (116: light; to shine; scenery; honor)

Old forms show "flames over a kneeling person's head"! That sounds dangerous to me, but researchers interpret the whole character as conveying "light." The bottom part means "person."

充 (1362: to fill; allot)

The 儿 means "person." In fact, one scholar sees the seal-script form of 儿 as depicting the "middle part of a mother's pregnant body in side profile with swollen abdomen." Another treats the 儿 as "person" or "person kneeling." A third views it as "person" with the extended senses "fill, provide."

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I love that this photo features the "legs" radical in 党 while also depicting a pedestrian with eye-catching legs! Here's the kanji in question:

党 (946: political party; group of people)

That character comes at the end of the political party name 公明党 (こうめいとう). The ad doesn't name the party leader shown here, but all Japanese people would apparently recognize him as 山口 那津男 (やまぐち   なつお). He promises to deliver your voice (声の届く, こえのとどく) to the government (政治, せいじ).

More Leglessness

Incidentally, 党 has nothing to do with legs etymologically. The original form instead had 黑 on the bottom.

Legs also play no part in the etymologies of these kanji:

兆 (939: sign; trillion)

This pictograph shows cracks on a turtle shell heated for divination. 

克 (1272: to overcome; win)

Old forms depict a figure wearing a helmet and maybe also armor.