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Not Knowing etymology

All meanings of the name of this post are intentional, as I really don’t know the first thing about Chinese etymology. But in my ignorance, I just stumbled over something wonderful in the first line of Hexagram 4, Not Knowing.

Hexagram 4, line 1 speeds the young ignoramus on her way by removing her fetters and manacles. It reads,

‘Sending out the ignoramus,
Fruitful to make good use of punishing people,
To make good use of loosening fetters and manacles.
Going on in that way is shameful.’

To ‘send out’ is fa, which has to do with shooting arrows from a bow. The ignoramus is truly being launched into the world. (It’s also the personal name of King Wu, so perhaps his education starts here too.)

The characters for ‘fetters’ and ‘manacles’ both begin with ‘wood’; presumably that’s what they were made of. ‘Fetters‘ are ‘wood’ and ‘arriving’, zhi which shows an arrow that has reached its target. And ‘manacles‘ are ‘wood’ and ‘informthe same word as in the Judgement, where only the first consultation informs the young ignoramus.

These characters paint a picture: how the ignoramus flies into the world like an arrow, and how the restrictions that keep her secure also block the arrow from ever reaching its target, and prevent the oracle from speaking to her.

14 responses to Not Knowing etymology

  1. ‘Fa’ also has the meaning of ‘put in force’, ‘use, apply’ (Hanyu Da Cidian 8.540). This could change the translation to

    Put the ignorant into force,
    Favourable to use as a prisoner (a ‘xingren’ is a person who is punished for a crime and has to do forced labour as a slave; see Hanyu Da Cidian 2.603)
    But remove shackles and handcuffs
    As they hinder movement.

    Even the ignorant have there use, but if you use them be sure not to limit the abilities that they have – otherwise the potential that is in them will be wasted.

    In other words, work with what you know and can do, do not be bothered by what you don’t know and can’t do. Bothers are shackles and handcuffs which should be removed to release your current potential.

    Hilary, why can’t I use Chinese characters in these comments? Such a pity.

  2. I don’t know. I can’t use them in the posts, either, hence the dictionary links. Big nuisance. (Any passing WordPress experts?)

    Anyway, thank you for the alternative translation!

  3. 1. Select in Wenlin the Chinese text you would like to convert (or select nothing if you want to convert the whole document)
    2. Select ‘Edit’, ‘Make transformed copy…’ in the menu.
    3. Select ‘Encode &#…; (decimal)’
    4. Click OK. It is vital that you click OK. (sorry for being persnickety)
    5. The result can be copied and pasted in WordPress.


  4. On a side-note I would like to remark that your etymology is considered a bit, ehrm, how should I put it, amateurish by sinologists. Sorry. You seem to see the characters as pictures of which every element is relevant for the meaning of the character as a whole. But the 至 component in 桎 is an indication for the pronunciation, just as 告 in 梏 serves that function. As is said in Wikipedia: “By far the most numerous category are the phono-semantic compounds, also called semantic-phonetic compounds or pictophonetic compounds. These characters are composed of two parts: one of a limited set of pictographs, often graphically simplified, which suggests the general meaning of the character, and an existing character pronounced approximately as the new target word.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_characters) The characters 桎 and 梏 belong to this ‘phono-semantic’ category. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice interpretation that you did and it can be valuable when you use the Yi. But etymologically it doesn’t make sense.

  5. That’s OK, I don’t mind being amateurish, just so long as I haven’t got the character components wrong. Isn’t this partly a question of how deliberately the original authors chose their characters? Maybe they just happened to use two characters with a theme of archery, for instance, and they didn’t particularly mean to. On the other hand, maybe they were poets.

  6. There is a dual meaning here in the sense that the fetters are needed to make sure the youthful person does not get off onto wrong paths, but at the same time, they must be removed when the youthful person is on the correct path. The fetters can only be removed when the student understands the right path. Another way of looking at this is that there has to be a proper measure of discipline and relaxation. too much of either one is dangerous. After a day at the office, one should be able to sit down and relax. But on Monday morning, it is time to go again. A youthful person does not understand the seriousness of this and tends to go on recklessly. This is when the fetters should be put on. The student must be shown the seriousness of life. There is a time for work, and a time for relaxation.


  7. The desires of immature people are self-centered, so one must use punishments or threats of punishments to restrain them. When the immature start to understand that they might have something to learn, then we begin to use rewards instead of punishments. If we continued to use punishments to force compliance at that point, that would be shameful, because we would be preventing the immature from developing.

    As for etymology, I think it would take me another whole lifetime to learn it. And so I think I’ll have to skip it this time around . . .

  8. *Grin* – know the feeling, skipping things for this lifetime. But some can be enjoyed without being learned, I think, like these little glimpses of poetic brilliance hidden in the characters.

  9. Interesting post. But Chinese characters are too complicated. I can’t understand. Even a few of my Chinese friends has some Chinese characters they don’t know. It really comforted me. LOL….

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