JOK Notebook

Vicious Circles

The new essay 1251 on 恒 (constant, established) includes this sentence:

Planets revolve around a star.

惑星 (わくせい: planet); 恒星 (こうせい: star);
周り (まわり: orbit); 回る (まわる: to revolve)

As I considered it, I became intrigued by 周りを回る, partly because it seems redundant (especially in terms of the sounds) but mostly because it made me wonder about the differences between 周 and 回. 

Scrutinizing 回 brought me to several words in which it hooks up with nearly synonymous characters:

周回 (しゅうかい: circumference, girth, surroundings)
回転 (かいてん: revolving, rotating, turning)
転回 (てんかい: turning over, revolution, rotation)
巡回 (じゅんかい: going around, making the rounds, patroling)

Similarly, as I examined 周, I came across terms in which 周 combines with kanji that have similar meanings:

周囲 (しゅうい: periphery, surroundings, environs)
周辺 (しゅうへん: environs, outskirts; circumference)
円周 (えんしゅう: circumference)

I remembered then that 周囲 appears in essay 1189 on 掘 (to dig, excavate). That word plays a role in a sign in Miyagi Prefecture (on Honshu). The sign is about Taga Castle (which was built in the eighth century and no longer exists) and explains a model of a compound there.

Photo Credit: Yoshikazu Kunugi

The relevant phrase combines 周囲 with 囲む (かこむ: to surround, fence, wall in):

The area was enclosed by an earthen wall with a tiled roof ...

築地塀 (ついじべい: earthen wall with a tiled roof)

This short phrase contains just six kanji, and three (actually two because 囲 appears twice) have overlapping meanings! 

From examining 周 and 回 and their unions with similar kanji, we've seen that as many as seven kanji involve going in circles! Here's the collection:

周    回    転    巡    囲    辺    円

Oh, wait. Examining 円 brought me to this phrase:

円く輪になって踊る (まるくわになっておどる: to dance in a circle)

In that I spotted 輪, which can mean "circle." So can 環, which means we're up to nine kanji!    

Just thinking about the differences made my brain go round and round—and not in the efficient way in which a car engine turns over in "revolutions"! My mental journey seemed as useless as the way my dog insists on doing a complete border check along our fence whenever she's outside! I therefore undertook a structured examination of all nine kanji, which I'll share with you. 

Before that, let's try a quiz. See if you can match the numbered kanji terms to the lettered definitions:

1. 自転する (じてんする)     self + turning
2. 車を転がす (くるまをころがす)     car + to roll, turn over
3. 円で囲む (まるでかこむ)     circle + to surround

a. to circle (a word)
b. to drive a car
c. (for a heavenly body) to rotate

I'll block the answers with a preview of the newly posted essay 1251 on 恒 (constant, established):  

Here are the answers:

1.c. 自転する (じてんする: self + turning) means "(for a heavenly body) to rotate," even though the word sounds like it's about narcissism, as if the world revolves around oneself! 

2.b. 車を転がす (くるまをころがす: car + to roll, turn over) means "to drive a car." Really?! It looks as if the phrase conveys that someone has had a serious car accident.

3.a. 円で囲む (まるでかこむ: circle + to surround) means "to circle (a word)." I wouldn't have guessed that at all. Maybe I would have thought it was about surrounding (controlling) a problem by spending more money (円: yen)!

Now let's take a brief look at how the nine circle-related kanji differ:

• 周 (504): This kanji can mean "periphery, circumference, perimeter," as in several words we saw: 周り (orbit), 周回 (circumference, girth, surroundings), 周囲 (periphery, surroundings, environs), 周辺 (environs, outskirts; circumference), and 円周 (circumference). That's also true in these terms:

周りの人 (まわりのひと: people surrounding one)
地球の周り (ちきゅうのまわり: circumference of Earth; space around Earth)

• 回 (86): This kanji is all about rotation. We see that in these definitions: "to turn around, revolve, rotate; go round, make the rounds; make a circular tour; circulate." We also glimpsed that meaning in 回転 (revolving, rotating, turning) and its inverse 転回 (turning over, revolution, rotation). Here's another representative term:

回覧 (かいらん: circulating, sending round)

Now I understand 周りを回る (to orbit) better. The 周り lays out the track to follow, and the 回る sends the planet in circles. 

• 転 (354): This term can mean "to turn, revolve, rotate; turn over, roll over." It's about spinning from top to bottom, as a tire does and as a person does when falling. We just refreshed our memories of 回転 and 転回, and of course the quiz included 自転する ((for a heavenly body) to rotate) and 車を転がす (to drive a car). These terms also apply:

転ぶ (ころぶ: to fall down)
転倒 (てんとう: falling down; tumbling; overturning; turning over)

• 巡 (1374): This one can mean "to make the rounds, patrol, make a round of inspection, go round, tour around; revolve, circulate; tour." Plenty of terms reflect those definitions, including 巡回 (going around, making the rounds, patroling) and these:

一巡 (いちじゅん: making a round)
巡らす (めぐらす: to enclose (with), surround (with), encircle)
巡り歩く (めぐりあるく: to travel around; walk around)
血の巡り (ちのめぐり: circulation of blood)

• 囲 (422): This kanji can mean "to enclose, encircle, surround; circumference," so it's about surrounding. We've seen 周囲 (circumference, periphery; surroundings) and 囲む (to surround, fence, wall in). Some additions:

包囲 (ほうい: surrounding, encircling, enveloping)
胸囲 (きょうい: chest measurement)
囲み (かこみ: enclosure; siege)

• 辺 (580): This kanji can mean "environs," "outskirts," and "borderland" because it's about being around or beside something. We saw 周辺 (environs, outskirts; circumference). Here are two more terms featuring 辺:

身辺 (しんぺん: one's person, one's immediate surroundings)
家の辺りに (いえのあたりに: around the house)

• 円 (4): This kanji has to do with circular shapes. To convey "encircling," one needs to add a verb, as in 円で囲む (to circle (a word)) and the following term:

円を描く (えんをえがく: to draw a circle)   

• 輪 (601): This is a kanji of wheels, rings, circles, and peripheries, as in these terms:

車輪 (しゃりん: wheel)
指輪 (ゆびわ: ring (on the finger))
輪郭 (りんかく: contour; outline, profile)
輪ゴム (わゴム: rubberband)

• 環 (1115): This kanji means "loop, ring, circle" as well as "to surround, encircle" and "around." It also has the nuance of "going around." These words reflect that:

環状の (かんじょうの: ring-shaped, circular)
環海 (かんかい: surrounding seas)
循環 (じゅんかん: circulation, rotation; cycle)

That's a lot to absorb, so here's a digest:

周: periphery, circumference        
回: rotation                
転: spinning from top to bottom    
巡: to make the rounds        
囲: to enclose    
辺: being around or beside something
円: circular shape
輪: wheel, ring
環: loop; to surround; going around

Is it just me, or does it feel like we're going round and round in a vicious circle?! 

Have a great weekend!


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