65. The "Branch" Radical: 支

The 支 radical fills me with a sense of deja-vu, though I'm hard pressed to say why. It's on duty only in the 支 kanji itself:

支 (691: branch; division; to support; pay; Chinese zodiac; China)

Perhaps the four-stroke 支 shape looks familiar because it resembles other radicals:

radical 29: 又 ("again")

radical 66: 攴 ("strike")

radical 67: 文 ("literature")

Our 支 shape also occupies the right side of this radical:

radical 207: 鼓 ("drum")

Similarly, 支 pops up on the right sides of these kanji, where it serves as a mere component:

技 (644: skill; craft)

岐 (1121: divergence)

枝 (1315: branch)

(1317: limb; divided parts)

伎 (1984: performer)

I suppose all these radicals and kanji collectively explain that feeling of having seen 支 everywhere!

Photo Credit: Kevin Hamilton

From the sign on the right I learned 支えあう or 支え合う (ささえあう: to support each other). Coupled with 日本 (にほん: Japan), this was part of the slogan of the political party Komeito (公明党, こうめいとう) after the disasters of March 11, 2011.

The sign against the pole not only introduces the useful word とびだし (飛び出し: something that leaps out) and cautions (注意, ちゅうい) people to slow down in a school zone but also gives a glimpse of a look-alike radical. I'm talking about 対策 (たいさく: measure), where the left side of 対 features radical 67, 文 ("literature"), as a component. Radical 41, 寸 ("inch"), is on duty there. The final word is 協議会 (きょうぎかい: council).

What Is the 支 Radical Called?

Simply called "branch" in English, thanks to the primary definition of the 支 kanji, our radical has quite a few names in Japanese:





As 支 carries the Joyo yomi シ, the first name is easy to understand.

The -にょう is the position name for a radical that goes down the left and swoops underneath a character. (To learn more about this, see Radical Terms and look at the "Radical Names" section, then at Position 7.) That never happens in any of the kanji I presented above, but I did find that arrangement in the non-Joyo character 翅 ((insect) wings).

The えだ in the next two names comes from the Joyo kun-yomi of 枝 (1315: branch).

As for じゅうまた, that reflects the idea that the 支 shape breaks down as 十 (じゅう: 10) and 又 (また: again). The decomposition bears no relationship to the etymology. It's just a bit of fun.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Our 支 kanji plays a central role in this ad from the Ministry of Justice. This text runs along the bottom:

The region's power to prevent crime and delinquency and
to help rehabilitate (delinquent juveniles)

犯罪 (はんざい: crime); 非行 (ひこう: delinquency); 防止 (ぼうし: prevention); 立ち直り (たちなおり: recovery); 支える (ささえる: to support); 地域 (ちいき: region); チカラ (力: power)

The idea is that each community should protect young people from going down the wrong path and should help them find the right path again if they have strayed.

The larger white writing to the right of the musician is as follows:

Let your voice be heard

君 (きみ: you); 声 (こえ: voice); 聴く (きく: to hear,
shown here in the -て form of its causative voice)

In the blue box we have this:

Campaign to brighten society

社会 (しゃかい: society); 明るい (あかるい:
bright); 運動 (うんどう: campaign)

What Does 支 Mean in Certain Kanji?

To see what 支 contributes to various characters, let's examine etymologies from Henshall's newer edition. This is his explanation of the most important kanji here:

支 (691: branch; division; to support; pay; Chinese zodiac; China) 

The 又 represents a "hand," and the 十 is a "stalk" or "branch." One scholar thinks that because the hand is supporting the branch or stalk, 支 acquired the extended sense "support," but another researcher sees that meaning as loan usage. Anyway, 支 as a whole represents a "bamboo stalk" or a "branch with leaves attached, held in the hand." Experts interpret 支 as meaning "pulling the branch or stalk away, and hence 'separate (with the hand).'"

I don't understand what it's being pulled away from, but I guess it's the rest of the tree.

Now we'll find out what function 支 serves as a mere component, starting with these two kanji:

枝 (1315: branch)

Henshall says the 支 phonetic conveys the associated sense "become separated," and the 木 means "tree." The entire character once symbolized "branch separated from tree," which later generalized to "branch."

岐 (1121: divergence)

The 支 phonetically expresses one of two associated senses—either "twin peaks" (in which case the whole character means "mountain with twin peaks") or "be separated" (giving "forked road" as an overall sense).

With both analyses we see the ongoing theme of separation, which one certainly doesn't expect from a tree branch. After all, its defining feature is its connection to the trunk!

The next two kanji have overlapping meanings and are often interchangeable:

技 (644: skill; craft)

Our 支 component means "support" here and phonetically conveys "work with the hands." This combines with the left-side "hand" radical to give the overall meaning "make things with the hands" and by extension "craft, skill."

伎 (1984: performer)

The 支 phonetically expresses "deed, skill," so 伎 as a whole means "person who has skills/performs," which is to say "actor."

Here is my favorite etymology of the bunch:

(1317: limb; divided parts)

The left side symbolizes "meat, flesh; body," and the 支 means "branch," so together these halves represent the "limbs" of the body! Kanjigen similarly says that 肢 consists of 肉 (flesh) + 支 (a short, straight branch), collectively referring to arms and legs.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Does a branch support, or does it need to be supported? A philosophical conundrum!