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On the Character “炎”

Here’s a good character to learn in the middle of the summer: 炎 (yán), which means “scorching.” It’s made up of two fire characters (火 Huǒ) stacked on top of each other—making it something like a tower of fire. 火, in its earliest oracle bone form, was actually a crude drawing of a flame. Later, to […]

06·29·2010

On the Character “炎”

Here’s a good character to learn in the middle of the summer: 炎 (yán), which means “scorching.” It’s made up of two fire characters (火 Huǒ) stacked on top of each other—making it something like a tower of fire. 火, in its earliest oracle bone form, was actually a crude drawing of a flame. Later, to […]

06·29·2010

Here’s a good character to learn in the middle of the summer: 炎 (yán), which means “scorching.” It’s made up of two fire characters (火 Huǒ) stacked on top of each other—making it something like a tower of fire.

火, in its earliest oracle bone form, was actually a crude drawing of a flame. Later, to illustrate “scorching hot,” the pictogram for fire, 火, was doubled up to make a large fire with tall flames leaping up into the air—and thus, the character 炎 was created.

炎 is now used in many words which refer to summer weather. In China, the hottest time of the year is mid-July to mid-August. At this time people say 天气炎热 (Tiānqì yánrè “the weather is scorching”). Some other expressions are 夏日炎炎 (xià rì yányán “sweltering summer days”) and 赤日炎炎 (Chì rì yányán “broiling sun”).

The Chinese believe that Yandi (炎帝), the Flame Emperor, is their ancestor. There are different speculations as to why this emperor was named 炎. Some think that there was something fire-like about his birth. Others believe that he was given this name because of the slash-and-burn agriculture techniques used at the time. Whatever the reason, we say that all Chinese are 炎黄子孙 (yánhuáng zǐsūn), “descendants of Yandi and Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor).”

In Chinese culture, 炎 is also often associated with power and influence. People call this “roasting power”—it is as bright as a flame. If you kiss up to someone powerful, this is called 趋炎附势 (qūyánfùshì).

If that powerful person loses their wealth, and as a result loses all of their friends, we say 世态炎凉 (shìtàiyánliáng). Literally, this means something like “society is hot and cold.” When you’ve got it all, everyone wants to be your friend. After you’ve lost it, no one is around.

Because pain can sometimes feel like a burning heat, and also because of the importance of the Chinese concept of “excessive internal heat,” many ailments are described with the character 炎. When the word “inflammation” first appeared in China, in Benjamin Hobson’s book “A Brief Introduction to Western Medicine,” it was translated as “炎法美顺 (yán fǎ měi shùn),” and abbreviated to 炎.

If part of your body is infected, swollen or sore, you might say that it’s “putting out heat,” 发炎 (fāyán). Arthritis is 关节炎 (guānjié yán) or “scorching joints,” tracheitis is 气管炎 (qìguǎn yán), gastritis is 胃炎 (Wèiyán), and enteritis is 肠炎 (Chángyán). So now you’re prepared for the Chinese doctor!

Translated from the Chinese (below) by Nicholas Richards (芮尼克)

“炎”字是由上下两个”火”字组成,”火”在甲骨文字里就画做火焰的形状,人们最初造字的时候是通过描画事物形状来表示字义的。用这种方法造出的字叫做象形字,常见的象形字有像流水形状的”水”字,像大树形状的”木”字,像太阳形状的”日”字,像月亮形状的”月”字,以及像人正面形状的”大”字和人侧面形状的”人”字等等。
后来人们把两个象形字放在一起会合它们的意思来表示一个新的含义,用这种方法造出的字叫做会意字。例如:把”人”字和”木”字合在一起写做”休”,表示人在树下休息;人们也把两个同样的象形字合在一起表示一个新的意思,例如:把两个”木”合在一起写做”林”,表示树木众多;把两个”人”合在一起写做”从”,表示二人相随;把两个”火”字合在一起写成”炎”,表示火焰升腾。
“炎”由两个熊熊燃烧的”火”字组成,所以”炎”字也表示温度很高的意思。例如:阳春三月,人们说天气暖和;三伏酷暑,人们说天气炎热。”夏日炎炎”形容酷热的夏天;”赤日炎炎”形容夏日里的烈日。
“炎帝”是中国人的祖先,”炎帝”的名字之所以有”炎”字,据说是因为他的出生跟火有关系,他做帝王也跟火有关系,炎帝又叫赤帝、烈山氏。炎帝和黄帝是中国人的祖先,所以中国人都说自己是”炎黄子孙”。
因为”炎”字代表着光和热,所以人们用”炎”字比喻炙人的权势。人有了权势可以为自己谋利益,可以主宰别人的命运,显赫的权势就像火焰一样光亮而炽热。成语”趋炎附势”意思是说奉承依附有权有势的人。一个人有权有势有钱财的时候,很多人尊敬他,巴结他;当他失去权势、没有钱财的时候,那些人就瞧不起他,对他冷淡,成语”世态炎凉”描述的也正是这种人世间的悲哀。
到了近代,”炎”字又用来表示身体某个部位出现了红、热、肿、痛之类的症状,例如:嗓子肿了,医生说是嗓子发炎了;眼睛红了,大夫说是眼睛发炎了;耳朵疼了,那是耳朵发炎了。发炎了要吃消炎的药,打消炎的针。常见的炎症有气管炎、关节炎、胃炎、肠炎等等。
“炎”字表示”炎症”的意思,据说来源于英文inflammation的音译。1857年英国来华传教士兼医生合信(Benjamin Hobson 1816-1873)与管茂材合著《西医略论》,他们把英语inflammation翻译成”炎法美顺”,缩略为”炎”。
至于为什么把身体”红、热、肿、痛”的症状用”炎”字来表示而不用其他的字,大概是因为”炎”字的字体和含义比较容易让人们联想到炎症”发红、发热、疼痛、肿胀”的形状和感觉吧。

“炎”字是由上下两个”火”字组成,”火”在甲骨文字里就画做火焰的形状,人们最初造字的时候是通过描画事物形状来表示字义的。用这种方法造出的字叫做象形字,常见的象形字有像流水形状的”水”字,像大树形状的”木”字,像太阳形状的”日”字,像月亮形状的”月”字,以及像人正面形状的”大”字和人侧面形状的”人”字等等。

后来人们把两个象形字放在一起会合它们的意思来表示一个新的含义,用这种方法造出的字叫做会意字。例如:把”人”字和”木”字合在一起写做”休”,表示人在树下休息;人们也把两个同样的象形字合在一起表示一个新的意思,例如:把两个”木”合在一起写做”林”,表示树木众多;把两个”人”合在一起写做”从”,表示二人相随;把两个”火”字合在一起写成”炎”,表示火焰升腾。

“炎”由两个熊熊燃烧的”火”字组成,所以”炎”字也表示温度很高的意思。例如:阳春三月,人们说天气暖和;三伏酷暑,人们说天气炎热。”夏日炎炎”形容酷热的夏天;”赤日炎炎”形容夏日里的烈日。

“炎帝”是中国人的祖先,”炎帝”的名字之所以有”炎”字,据说是因为他的出生跟火有关系,他做帝王也跟火有关系,炎帝又叫赤帝、烈山氏。炎帝和黄帝是中国人的祖先,所以中国人都说自己是”炎黄子孙”。

因为”炎”字代表着光和热,所以人们用”炎”字比喻炙人的权势。人有了权势可以为自己谋利益,可以主宰别人的命运,显赫的权势就像火焰一样光亮而炽热。成语”趋炎附势”意思是说奉承依附有权有势的人。一个人有权有势有钱财的时候,很多人尊敬他,巴结他;当他失去权势、没有钱财的时候,那些人就瞧不起他,对他冷淡,成语”世态炎凉”描述的也正是这种人世间的悲哀。

到了近代,”炎”字又用来表示身体某个部位出现了红、热、肿、痛之类的症状,例如:嗓子肿了,医生说是嗓子发炎了;眼睛红了,大夫说是眼睛发炎了;耳朵疼了,那是耳朵发炎了。发炎了要吃消炎的药,打消炎的针。常见的炎症有气管炎、关节炎、胃炎、肠炎等等。

“炎”字表示”炎症”的意思,据说来源于英文inflammation的音译。1857年英国来华传教士兼医生合信(Benjamin Hobson 1816-1873)与管茂材合著《西医略论》,他们把英语inflammation翻译成”炎法美顺”,缩略为”炎”。

至于为什么把身体”红、热、肿、痛”的症状用”炎”字来表示而不用其他的字,大概是因为”炎”字的字体和含义比较容易让人们联想到炎症”发红、发热、疼痛、肿胀”的形状和感觉吧。