59. The "Short Hair" Radical: 彡

When I last went for a haircut, I witnessed an epic rant. The customer had arrived on time for her 11:00 appointment, only to learn that her stylist would be 30 minutes late—and would be making a stop before arriving. 

"That's the rudest thing I've ever heard," the customer yelled at the receptionist. "She's already late and she's making a stop? Is her time more valuable than mine? An appointment is a contract, and she breached that contract. I'm having 20 guests for dinner at 6:00, and I have to put something in the oven by 12:30. I'm never coming back here. She's already late and she's making a stop first? That's the rudest thing I've ever heard. An appointment is a contract...."

Round and round she went for what turned out to be 40 minutes, because the stylist arrived even later than predicted. The receptionist repeatedly apologized, then tried to soothe the customer with this: "I'm sure you'll be out of here in no time because you have short hair, and it shouldn't take long."

The woman flew off in a new direction: "Are you saying that because I have short hair, my time is less valuable than everyone else's?"

Yes, yes, that's exactly what he was saying. In fact, short hair makes a person practically worthless.

In the Joyo kanji world, the "short hair" radical is actually more valuable than its cousin, the "long hair" radical 髟 (radical 190). I say that because 髟 appears in just one Joyo kanji, 髪 (1706: hair), whereas the "short hair" radical 彡 is on duty in five of them, including these:

形 (104: shape)
(1290: color; to paint)
(1590: to carve; sculpt; chisel; tattoo) 

As it happens, 形 (104) and 彫 (1590) both pop up in signs at a Nagoya Castle exhibit on regional toys:

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Our radical appears in 人形 (にんぎょう: doll).

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Radical 59 is the last bit of 一刀彫 (いっとうぼり: one-knife carving).

By the way, with the yomi of しゃち, the non-Joyo 鯱 represents a killer whale. If you instead read the character as しゃちほこ, then you have a mythical animal with the body of a fish, the head of a tiger (or lion or dragon), and a menacing tail held high.

The Names of Radical 59

The Japanese have a few names for our radical:

さんづくり (彡旁), when the radical is on the right side of a kanji
けかざり (毛飾り: hair ornament)    
かみかざり (髪飾り: hair ornament)

Because radical 59 is always on the right in Joyo kanji (as opposed to its location in the non-Joyo characters 彡 and 彦), we'll go with さんづくり.

Incidentally, Nelson (who prefers to call this radical かみかざり) says that さんづくり means "right-hand 'three.'" However, the さん actually corresponds to 彡, not 三 (three), though of course the latter would have been quite fitting for this three-stroke radical. And what does 彡 mean as an autonomous kanji? Ironically, Nelson defines it as "long-haired"! 

In English, one can refer to the radical as "short hair," "hair ornament," or simply "hair." Obviously, we're using the first option.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Look what happens to our radical in 彫 here. The typically distinct strokes have become connected, as if the brush never left the board.

In the name of this crafts store, 彫刻 (ちょうこく) means "carving; engraving; sculpture," whereas -堂 (-どう) is a suffix attached to the shop name. 

Role of the Radical

Why are there short hairs in any kanji? Actually, perhaps there aren't. 

Henshall defines our radical a bit differently, saying in his analysis of 顔 (93: face) that 彡 means "hair," consisting of "three delicate hairs." This radical sometimes means "delicate" and by extension "attractive," he adds. (Note that the on-duty radical in 顔 is 頁, which is radical 181, "big shell.")

Similarly, Kanjigen defines the autonomous kanji 彡 as "ornament made of threads or hair; pattern" and notes that the radical 彡 represents an "ornament" or "pattern" in various characters.

The following etymology from Henshall reflects 彡 as "pattern":

形 (104: shape)    

The left side means "pattern" or "frame," and our radical means "hairs" here, also suggesting "pattern" and reinforcing the meaning of the left-hand shape. Alternatively, some scholars feel that this 彡 represents "brush," enabling the whole character to mean "writing down a pattern" or "copying a pattern."

With the next etymology we again find our radical as "pattern," but something else is also at work:

影 (1017: shadow, silhouette, reflection; image; traces of; light)

The left side (typically "scene" or "bright") means "open to the sunlight," while our radical means "delicate hairs" here in an extended sense of "delicate pattern." However, some scholars see this 彡 as "rays of sunlight," which makes the whole character represent "delicate pattern formed by sunlight"—namely, "dappling" or "shading." That has led to definitions of both "shadow" and "light." And the pattern of shadows has given rise to the meanings "form" and "image."

The "rays of sunlight" idea might seem random, but that's what the 彡 means in 場 (144: place) and 易 (618: easy), according to Henshall. He calls it "highly likely that there was some confusion between hairs and sunrays, or even a deliberate merging of the two."

Photo Credit: Christopher Acheson

You might think the strokes of our radical would remain parallel to each other, but look how they curve around an invisible core in this image. 

The word 形式  (けいしき) means "form" or "type" in this context, which happens to be the side of a freight train carrying coal. The very short term ホキ breaks down, believe it or not! The ホ means "hopper car," and the キ means "capable of carrying 25 tons or more." The 10000 indicates which type of car it is.