How to say "radical" in Chinese??

January 05, 2011, 04:35 AM posted in I Have a Question

I was talking to my friends at the coffee shop about something and the topic of "radicals" came up.. and I had a heck of time trying to explain what I mean by "radical".. They thought I was talking about "radiance" at first because I was talking about the "fire" radical.. hehe.. then they pulled out their dictionary and looked it up and of course they found "radical" as in the sentence "He had some very radical ideas.".. as in abnormal etc..

I have now looked it up in my English-Chinese PlecoDict and got two possibilities..

bùjiàn and bùshǒu

So when I go back to see them tomorrow, I want to know which of these would be the correct word? I am thinking bùshǒu due to the translation I am seeing.. but I could be wrong.. :)


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January 05, 2011, 05:38 AM

部首 or 偏旁 are both correct as far as I know.  I have often wondered if they are slight differences in meaning between these two words?

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January 05, 2011, 06:14 AM

部首 is the word you are looking for - it's the one component part to which the charecter is assigned in dictionaries.

部件 is a general word meaning something like 'part', can be used with machines, or for all the component parts of a charecter.  偏旁 is a specific word for the component parts of charecters - in the past, 偏 refered to the left side component of the charecter, 旁 to the right, but now its just a unified term.  Both 部件 and 偏旁 refer to the same thing - all the little component parts that you can dissect a charecter into.

Thus, say, 治 has one 部首, but lots of 偏旁/部件 (氵厶 口...or I think you could also divide it as氵 and 台...but this last part I'm a little unclear on, though I wouldn't imagine there would be any rule about having to break it down all the way...)



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January 05, 2011, 09:01 AM

部首identifies the radicals used to organise characters in the (paper) dictionary, but in conversing about characters you will find the word 偏旁 more useful (tingyun has the details.)  

When identifying a character (orally) or describing how to write the character, the 部首 has no special role.  The character is made up of 偏旁, one of which is the 部首.  But you may not need to identify the 部首 as a separate 偏旁.

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January 05, 2011, 12:35 PM

偏旁 seems like the word I was looking for in the context of the conversation I was having because 灬 was not the 部首 of the character but only a component of the character.. :) Thanks!