Mother, a female horse?

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve had several encounters with the word (hǎo). On the left side of this character is the character (nǚ) , which means “female”. On the right side is the character (zi) , which means a seed, an offspring, a small thing, or a person. Naturally, a female person connotes goodness. (hǎo) is the Chinese word for “good” or “well”. So, 好吃! (Hǎo chī!) means good for eating, or delicious; 您好 (nín hǎo) means “Wishing you well” or “Good day!”; and 新年好(xīnnián hǎo) means “Wishing you well in the new year”. So, what does 好人 (hǎo rén) mean? That’s right! A good person.

Now, put the characters for female and horse together:

(nǚ) + (mǎ) = (mā)

The new word means “mother”. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Some people say, (mā), others say, 妈妈 (māma) – not unlike the English word, “mama”.

You know that (nĭ) means “you”. Replace the left side of this character with (nǚ female), and you’d get the word for a “female you”, (nĭ). It’s all right if you just use (nĭ) across the board and never bother with making the distinction between a male and a female “you”, as (nĭ) is a modern term, without which the Chinese have been doing just fine for ages. Ditto for the Chinese characters for he and she. By the way,  (nín) is the polite form of “you”. It applies to both genders.

(nǚ) is one of many so-called “radicals” of the Chinese characters. Each radical is shared by a group of characters, and provides a hint to a common characteristic of the words represented by those characters. Look in your Chinese text book or dictionary for additional examples of words containing the radical (nǚ). All of them have something to do with the female gender (for example, she, sisters, aunts, etc.). I hope you will pick out a few simple ones and learn them by heart.

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