9. The "Person" Radical: 人, 亻, and the Top of 介

Given how self-centered the human species is, it's a wonder that the "person" radical hasn't made its way into just about every kanji. Although it hasn't, it does pop up in a significant number. When that happens, we tend to see it in this form on the left side of characters:

亻 (にんべん: "person" radical on the left side)

Humans come in all shapes, though, and kanji radicals are no different. The following two versions also qualify as the "person" radical:

人 (ひと: "person" radical)
 (ひとやね: "person-roof" radical)

Note how the names change along with the shapes. The stroke count (two) is the same in all cases.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In Tokyo, a Chinese restaurant makes ample use of the 人 shape! The restaurant is named Ren Ren Ren, coming from the Mandarin reading of 人 as ren (ignoring tones). In Chinese, 人人 means "everybody." Although 人人人 doesn't exist as a Chinese word, it serves here as a coinage and as an exaggeration of 人人.

The "Person" Radical as 人

Let's look at the variations on the "person" radical more closely, starting with 人. This shape is a mere component in just a few kanji:

座 (870: to sit)
囚 (1353: prisoner) 

The same shape serves as the on-duty radical in these kanji:  

以 (419: -ward; by means of) 
(1310: umbrella, parasol; umbrella-shaped object)

Actually, 傘 is a controversial case. Some sources say that it contains the "person" radical, but if so, is that because of the four 人 shapes or because of the  up top? Perhaps it's neither. Henshall (who has supplied all etymological information in this Radical Note, unless otherwise noted) says 傘 is a pictograph of an "umbrella," with 十 as the "frame,"  as the "hood," and 人 as the pieces supporting the hood. In that case, 傘 contains no people at all! Apparently, some reference sources have filed this character under the "person" radical because they needed to put it somewhere, not because the etymology dictated that choice.

Several other kanji look as though they contain 人, but etymologically they don't. For instance in 内 (364: inside), the 人 shape used to be 入 (63: to enter). That makes sense, given that 内 means "inside." Furthermore, 人 is neither a radical nor a component in 卒 (537: to graduate), even though this kanji looks a lot like 座 (featured above). 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Another representation of a person, one who appears to be sunbathing by the ocean.

The "Person" Radical as 亻

Let's focus now on 亻, which is much more clear-cut as a radical. There's no doubt about whether it exists in the following kanji or why it would: 

仕 (285: to serve) 
他 (334: another, the others)
(1490: mythical being, wizard, fairy; hermit)
(1643: to fall)

However, this left-side radical does show up in some places you wouldn't expect:

例 (605: example)

You might think this kanji includes a person because someone wants to make an example of him. But, no, this character represents "people (亻) lined up (列) in the proper order," says Henshall. Later, it came to mean "comparison." After that, it turned into "example, to liken, precedent."

It's also surprising to see that the next kanji contains 亻:

何 (80: what)

What?! This character combines 亻 with 可 (can). Not "tin can" but "to be able." Well, that's what Henshall says. According to another source, Kanjigen, 何 originally depicted a person who was shouldering a burden. It later evolved to mean "to use a husky voice to call and stop somebody." Kanjigen notes that 可 represents the sound of the husky voice.  

The "Person" Radical at the Top of 介

Let's move on to the  version of this radical. In Japanese, people call this shape ひとやね ("person-roof," meaning "'person' radical at the top (roof) of a kanji") or ひとがしら (the 人-shaped radical at the top of a kanji), where がしら is the voiced name of a radical position. (For more on this, read about position 3 in Radical Terms.)

Here are some examples of  as a radical:

介 (1059: to mediate) 
企 (1120: project) 

The 介 kanji originally depicted a person encased in armor! 

Sometimes a character containing  is classified as having the "person" radical even if that shape has no etymological connection to people. In fact, this shape tends to combine with the small horizontal line beneath it to mean "cover." That's the case in the following kanji:

会 (87: to meet)
今 (125: now) 
令 (603: command) 

In other words, where there seem to be people, there often aren't. The is simply a cover-up!

Well-Populated Kanji

However, certain kanji are indeed well populated. The next character contains two versions of the "person" radical:

似 (696: to resemble) 

In one non-Joyo character, all three "person" radical variations seem to make an appearance:

儉 (thrifty)

This kanji is the old version of (1213: thrifty; modest). Etymologically, 儉 actually contains only two instances of the "person" radical. As Henshall indicates in his newer edition, the 亻of 儉 and its two instances of 人 check out as "people," but the  and the small line underneath again mean "cover."