Chinese word radical – Hand

Hand Shadow

Hand Shadow


Come to think of it, our hands do a multitude of things for us, but most of us take them for granted. Without hands, it would be very difficult to even perform such basic tasks as putting food into one’s mouth and doing the dishes. That’s why the Chinese say, “双手万能 (huāngshǒu wànnéng)”.

The hand is called (shǒu). 双手 (huāngshǒu) means both hands. 万能 (wànnéng) means all-powerful or omnipotent.

Naturally, words like (zhǎng the palm) and (quán the fist, or boxing) take on the “hand” radical. So does the word (ná), which means to hold, to grasp or to take.

In everyday speech, we often speak of the palm as 手掌 (shǒuzhǎng). Similarly, we often refer to the fist as 拳头 (quántou). 拳击手 (quánjíshǒu) is a boxer. In this term, (shǒu hand) refers to a person who is doing a task or is good at doing a certain task, much like how the word “hand” is employed in the English term “farmhand”.

In your Chinese dictionary you will find many words containing the reduced “hand” radical. We’ve discussed a number of them in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, and mentioned a couple last week Following are a few more for you to look at

(mō) is to stroke, to feel with one’s hands or to feel out.

他摸到一个小瘤子.
Tā mō dào yī gè xiǎo liúzi.
He felt a small tumor.

(fú) is to support someone with one’s hands. 扶手 (fúshou) is a handrail or an armrest.

(rēng) and (pāo) both mean to throw, to toss, to discard or to abandon.

他抛弃了财产, 离开家乡.
Tā pāoqì le cáichǎn, líkāi jiāxiāng.
He adandoned his property and left his hometown.

(sī) is to tear.

他撕下一张日历.
Tā sī xià yī zhāng rìlì.
He tore off a page from the daily calendar.

As a verb, (tuō) is to hold or support something with upturned hands. 委托 (wěituō) means to entrust someone with a task. 寄托 (jìtuō) means to entrust something or someone to the care of another person. 拜托 (bàituō) is to politely ask someone to do something in your favor.

拜托, 帮个忙.
Bàituō bāng gè máng.
Please, do me a favor.

托儿所 (tuōérsuǒ) is a child-care center.

(wā) means to dig or unearth. 挖苦 (wāku) means to speak sarcastically or ironically.

(kàng) is to resist or to defy. 抵抗 (dǐkàng) is to resist, and 抵抗力 (dǐkàng lì) refers to one’s ability to ward off diseases.

(chě) is to pull apart or to pull on someones clothing. Colloquially it refers to going off a point. For example, 胡扯 (húchě) means to talk nonsense.

(pá) is to rake up or to push loose things (like dry leaves) aside to reveal what’s underneath. Doesn’t the (bā eight) character on the right-hand side look like arms spread out while pushing things away from the center? A pickpocket is called a 扒手 (páshǒu). Here again, (shǒu hand) refers to the “doer”. An easy way to remember this word is to imagine eight hands picking all your interior and exterior bellow pockets, zippered pockets, hand-warmer pocket, etc. (This reminds me of a scene in Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Kid“.)

吃里扒外 (chīlǐbāwài) describes the treacherous behavior of living on somebody but secretly working for the benefactor’s adversary, or 对手 (duìshǒu oponent). This is a rather serious accusation.

Homework: Find out what hand shadows are called in Chinese.

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