Mysterious Hand-written Character
This is definitely not a post for beginners. If you’re an advanced learner or literate native speaker of Chinese and take an interest in character variants, you might enjoy this, though.
Take a look at this Chinese character, hand-written for a sign in my Shanghai office:
You’re likely having trouble deciphering that. On first glance, it looked to me like a person component on the left (亻), with two vertically-stacked 人 on the right, a 一 in between them. In fact, the bottom half almost looked like a Korean ㅈ to me. But no, this is Chinese, written by a native speaker/writer of Chinese, and intended for other Chinese people.
Here’s the character as part of a two-character word in context:
Easier to read now?
If you still can’t get it and your Chinese is sufficiently advanced, the rest of the context should make it clear enough:
The notice reads:
So the mystery character here is 货 (huò), as in the word 货梯 (huò tī), or freight elevator.
Does this answer seem wrong to you? It felt wrong to me. I asked some native speakers if they could read it, showing them first the isolated character, then the full context. In every case, they couldn’t read it in isolation, but could read it in context, and while admitting it looked weird, didn’t agree that it was wrong… just sloppy.
OK, but now that we know that the character is supposed to be 货 (huò), we can make a bit more sense of it.
So here’s my analysis:
- First of all, what I originally thought was a 亻 down the left side is actually confined to the top half in a stubby 亻, the bottom of which overlaps with the form beneath it.
- The top of this character should be 化, but the right side is definitely 人 rather than 匕. I’m not sure how anyone could argue otherwise. I see this as mistake #1.
- The bottom part should be 贝, but there’s a stroke missing. I see a 厂 with a 人 inside it (仄). Not sure how you can say there’s not a stroke clearly missing on the right side. I see this is mistake #2.
Given these two clear mistakes (?), I’m not sure why native speakers don’t feel like this character is blatantly wrong, like I do. (If it’s worth anything, my fourth grader, a life-long student of the Chinese school system, couldn’t get how that could be 货 either.) But hey, differences in perception are a big part of what makes this whole language-learning adventure fun.
And, good thing actual hand-to-paper writing is becoming a thing of the past, right??
(But in all seriousness, I do welcome additional analysis!)
P.S. This is a good example where being familiar with the structural patterns of Chinese characters is useful. What I originally assumed to be ⿰ (with a ⿱ embedded on the right side) was actually ⿱. Greater familiarity with different structures gives your mind greater flexibility in character recognition.