148. The "Horn" Radical: 角

The 角 shape is based on the pictograph of a horn, according to Henshall in his newer edition, and that horn belonged to an ox, a sheep, or a "similar animal." I'm not sure which animals count as similar, but it's intriguing to consider. He comments that “corner, angle” may be extended senses of 角 from the idea of a protruding horn.

So it is that the autonomous 角 kanji has these definitions:

角 (243: horn; corner, angle)

This character carries three Joyo yomi: カク, かど, and つの. Two surface in names of the 角 radical:

つの     かく     つのへん

The last option refers to the radical on the left side (the -へん side, which you can learn about in Radical Terms, reading about Position 1 in the "Radical Positions" section). These kanji feature a つのへん:

解 (632: to take apart; explain; solve; release)

触 (1428: to touch; experience; perceive; violate; mention)

We've already seen all three Joyo kanji in which our radical is on duty!

In English we can call 角 the "horn" radical or the "corner" radical. This seven-stroke shape has no variants.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This Osaka restaurant sign catches my attention for two reasons. First, unlike the Henshall etymology, the restaurant name 牛角* (ぎゅうかく) clearly indicates that the 角 (horn) belongs to an ox or a bull (牛). One site explains that the restaurant owners see ox or bull horns as antennae for receiving customers’ opinions!

Second, although there's little kanji on this sign, romaji abounds, and it's oddly daunting! Let's take the bull by the horns and tackle both scripts. Here are the kanji words across the bottom:

焼肉 (やきにく: grilled meat)

酒家 (しゅか: pub)

I'll rewrite the romanized lines in kanji and hiragana, making the words not only tidier but also easier to grasp:

We want to become your best restaurant.

一番 (いちばん: best); 店 (みせ: restaurant)

We have unrequited love for you.

片思い (かたおもい: one-sided love)

Wait, doesn't that mean customers won't love the restaurant?

In turning the romaji into kanji, I discovered something quite unexpected; with a different yomi, the meaning of 牛角 changes entirely:

牛角 (ごかく: equal (in ability); even; evenly matched; well-matched; on par (with))

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This establishment may seem to have a funny name, as 打 primarily means "to hit." So ... hitting the horn?! No, here's what 角打(ち) represents:

角打ち or 角打 (かくうち:
(1) combined liquor store and pub; (2) drinking alcohol while standing in the shop)

The sign for this place in the 有楽町 (ゆうらくちょう) section of Tokyo lists hours for lunch (ランチ) and dinner (ヂィナー), so the first sense of 角打 must apply.

Horns in the Etymologies

Drawing again on etymologies in Henshall's newer edition, let's examine the two つのへん characters, particularly investigating what a caterpillar needs with a horn in 触:

解 (632: to take apart; explain; solve; release)

An old form features 牛 (ox, cow) + "two hands" + 角 (horn). The 角 could be both the radical and the phonetic, says Henshall. 

In a more common view, some part (I think it's the two hands + 角, though Henshall is unclear here) constitutes the phonetic, conveying the associated sense "divide up, split." If so, the character had the overall sense "divide up an ox/cow," which generalized to "divide, take apart." Henshall cautions that although a 刀 (knife) appears in the seal form, that yields "cut up" in general, not necessarily "to cut up an ox." One expert views “understand” as a separate word related to that for “divide up,” not an extended sense.

触 (1428: to touch; experience; perceive; violate; mention) 

An old form combines 角 (horn) with 蜀 (caterpillar; Chu, the name of an ancient Chinese state). The latter component served as the phonetic with the associated sense “strike.” Thus, the whole character meant “push/stab with horn,” which is still a meaning in Chinese. This sense extended to mean “infringe, violate” and later "touch."

One could refer to that kind of infringing as "horning in on"! 

Word to the Wise

Don't confuse 角 with this radical:

用 (radical 101: "using") 

Actually, in Simplified Chinese the lower part of 角 looks more like 用, with the central vertical stroke reaching the baseline of the character. Strangely, the Traditional Chinese shape is 角, as in Japanese.