Chinese Character Dictionary: A New Approach to Arranging, Explaining and Looking Up Chinese Characters [Paperback ed.] 1491011076, 9781491011072

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Chinese Character Dictionary: A New Approach to Arranging, Explaining and Looking Up Chinese Characters [Paperback ed.]
 1491011076, 9781491011072

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Chinese Character Dictionary

By the same author, published in Dutch: Barbaren, rebellen en mandarijnen - De VOC in de slag met China in de Gouden Eeuw (Barbarians, Rebels and Mandarins - Conflicts between the Dutch East India Company and China in the 17th century)

Chinese Character Dictionary A new approach to arranging, explaining and looking up Chinese characters

Adrian van Amstel

This e-book edition was uploaded in July, 2019. For an overview of the changes and other information about the Chinese Character Dictionary project please visit:

Copyright © 2019 Adrian van Amstel All rights reserved.

Produced by Kindle Direct Publishing, an Company

Main Components Table (MCT) section / repr. 1 立


立 | | | 尔


辛 勹 欠




| | | 癶 乚 乚 黽 | | | | | | 丁 丁 才 丂 与

勿 | | [ ] 禸 𠫔 系 乡 [专] [东] | | 戈 曳 [发] [ ] 广 皮 及 為 戶 尺 [户] 了 子 乙 匕 比 乜 也 | | 艮 瓦 [示] 可 [ ] 水 丂 丐


𠂔 力 力

弓 刀 |


3a b c 4 5a b c 6 7a b 8a


ㄙ ㄙ 糸 车 [车] 亡 亡 弋 弋 𠂇 𠂇 厂 厂 乃 尸 尸 |

components 5 6


𥝢 芻 夕

歹 |

云 𠫓 幺 亥 [ ]






|糹| [纟]

我 戊 戉 [戋] 彧 [⺶] 耂 看 尢 [无] [严] | | | | 𠂋 斤

旡 爪

冘 瓜

[卢] 叚 倉



[𠃓] 龴 予

之 [𢀖]

北 兆 七 | | 己 已 良 | | 氏

屯 巳 氐

乇 㔾 民

毛 电 巴 衣 [农]

于 余 乎 手 牙 [乐] 寸 氺 𠃌 习 丏 焉 馬 鳥 島 烏 豕 [马] [鸟] [岛] [乌]

| 方 万 亦

(cont.) components section / repr. 9 乂 10a










乂 人 尞 龹 儿 | | 木 業 示

文 亼 天 | | 兀 疋 束 秉 | | [眔]

丈 从 矢 美 几

囪 入 关

鹵 火 夭

又 [双] 取 殳 女 𤇾 大 犬 太 [头] 夫 失 [夹] | | | |

柬 東 林 米 [来] 㡀 | |

𣎳 釆

未 朱 禾 本

末 朿

耒 不

事 爭


12a c

巾 虫 彐

巾 虫 惠 禺 彐 | | 聿


車 午 |卜| 井 黑 王


b 14a


十 平 | | 廾 廾 土 土 [卫] 龷


| 缶 下 开 里 壬 [壬] 龷 | | 其 丑 五 互

唐 半 乍 |丩| 升 士 𡈼 耳 無

肅 [肃] 丰 羊 |卩| 亓 告 主 廿






牛 韋 革 千 畢 華 [书]

干 𢆉 [韦] [节]

[啬] 龶 生 玉 𦍌 [善]

堇 隹

工 上

甘 [业] [亚]

(cont.) section / repr. 15a

b c 16a b c 17

components 1







冂 冂 |冋| | | 月 丹 舟 那 冊 [丽] 而 雨 冃 [贝] [雨] 匚 匚 巨 臣 𦣞 | | 凵 凵 山 出 屰 臼 口 口 | | 言 豆 石 京 回 凸 日 白 | | 曰 目 目 罒 自 貝 且 具 皿 身 田 田 申 由 甲 四 西 面 一 一 二 三 六 八 少 小 丫 斗 以 艸 非 鬥 [ ] 片 彳 [钅] 心 門 |阝| [门]




[册] 冉 用

中 㠯 凹 曲 典 母

巛 竹 川 豸 彡 爿

Categories and representatives category


shared feature

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

ㄙ车亡 弋 𠂇厂尸

slanting strokes to the left or to the right (but not divergent, as in 大, etc.)

9 10

乂 人儿

11 12 13 14 15 16 17

木 巾虫彐 十廾 土龷 冂匚凵 口目田 一

乚 丁丂力

'feet' pointing to the right or to the left slanting strokes crossing or diverging combinations of horizontal and vertical lines

square shapes irregular

| | | | slanting strokes | | |

horizontal and vertical lines irregular

Note: See section 3 of the Introduction for a more detailed description of these categories and representatives.

Radical table 1: positional radicals positional radical

radical position


positional radical

radical position


立 音 角[角] 魚[鱼] 歹 攵 欠 ㄙ 鬼


蒟,[竖] [韵],響 解,嘴 蘇,鱉

鳥[鸟] 弓 力

l,r,b r,b

鷈,鸀,鷙 發,灣 墈,募



[风] 文 鹵 女 肉 金


餮 綮,變 蠍 篡 魑,巍 ,魘 藝

[飐],[飘] 贇,斐 鹼 媸,婪 瘸 鎦,鋆

糹[纟] 糸 [车] 戈 厂 广 瓜 子 毛 黽 气 食 衣 鼠 瓦 行 手 [ ] 羽 馬[马]


緘 縈 [匦],[辇] 戢 厚 廬 瓞,瓤 孺,孥 氌,毿,氅 鼉 餼 饜 褒 鼫 瓶,瓷 蘅 拏 寨 翻,羿,翡 馭,驚

齒 [齿] 火 矢 見 [见] 風 走 𧾷,足 木 耒 米 禾 巾 虫 車 牜 韋[韦] 革 缶 羊 土


l,b l,b l,b l r,b r b l,r,b

b l,b r tl tl l,r l,b l,r,b b tr b b l r,b enc b b r,t,b l,b


l,b l l,b b l,b

b l r l,r l l,b l,b l l,b l l,b l,b l,b l,b l,r l l,b l l,b

齶,齹 煲 彘 靚,[觐] 颱,飄 赳 蹯,蹩 梅,寨 耡 糖,[糜] [秽] 幃,[帮] 蛇,蜚 轞,輦 犍,犨 韍,韙 羈 罐,罌 羢 培,壘


黑 王 玉 耳 骨[骨] 月 舟 雨[雨] [贝] [页] 山 口 言[讠] 石 日

l,b l b l,b l l l t l,b r l,t,b l,enc l,b l,b l

黲,黧 璘 璧 聘,[聋] 骭,[髋] 膀 艨 霍,[橒] [贱],[贽] [顾] 峪,獃,密 嘀,團 詐,[誉] 砬,碧 曖

白 目 貝 頁 罒 皿 田 酉 爿 [丬] 片 彳 [钅] 心 門 [门] 阝

l l,b l,b r t b l l l l l l b enc l,r

皓 眯,眥 賜 顒 罪 盛 甽 醱 妝 牘 黴 [钫] 恧 閟 障,鄣

The following abbreviations of position indicators are used: l=left; tl= top-left; r= right; tr= top-right; t= top; b= bottom; enc= enclosing *: Note about bottom radicals: components marked with b should only be treated as a bottom radical if the top part functions as phonetic, as explained in more detail in section 4. The following rules of thumb can be used to determine if this is the case: 1. '2+1'-rule: The upper part of the character consists of at least two components standing side by side, while the radical stands on its own below. In fact, the upper part functions in that case as phonetic. 2. 'between'-rule: The bottom radical is placed between the diverging strokes of the upper part, which in that case functions as phonetic. 3. 'five phonetics'-rule: 亦, 萬[万], , 非, and 宓, these five always function as phonetic when combined with a bottom radical.

Radical table 2: common radicals radical

origin + meaning or explanation


origin + meaning or explanation

simplified form of 爿: a piece of wood; strong

From 仌, the pattern formed when water freezes: to freeze; ice 犬 (dog)

hair 髟 飠 [饣] 食 (food)

亻 扌

人 (man; person)

氵 忄

water (水)


From 辵 (to go step by step) simplified form of 言 (say, speak) 火 (fire)

讠 灬 艹[艹] 冖 亠 宀

hand (手)

心 (heart)

1. 火 (fire) 2. feet of certain animals 艸 (grass) 1. to cover; 2. from 勹 (wrap). contraction of several other forms A hut; a dwelling

犭 礻 衤 疒 𥫗 刂

示 [示] (heavenly influences) 衣 (clothes) From 𤕫: (to lie on a bed (爿)): to be sick; sickness 竹 (bamboo) 刀 (knife)

爪 (hand)

From 彳 lengthened: a long stride. 穴 (cave, den)

𠃊 ⺗

才 (strength of expansion) cover, conceal contracted form of 心 abbreviation of the top of 學 (to learn) abbreviation of 尚: the

ridge on the roof of a traditional house

In characters in which all components are to be treated as radicals the order of priorities is: 1. right radicals (攵, 欠, 见, 页, 羽, et cetera) 2. other positional radicals (in MCT order) 3. common radicals

Preface A Christian missionary who studied Chinese in China in the beginning of the 19th century, wrote that his Chinese teacher used to place a ladies shoe on the table before the beginning of the lesson. The reason for this peculiar behaviour was, he explains, that if Chinese officials would enter the office unannounced they would surely assume that the missionary and his teacher were talking about trade, as studying Chinese by foreigners was prohibited by the government. The reason for which was that the Chinese language had to be kept a secret to the foreigners, so that they could not steal the 'secrets of the country'. Such hurdles as these for the study of the Chinese language are of course no longer in existence, but others remain. The way Chinese-English dictionaries are arranged was one massive hurdle for me when I started the study of the language first in Shanghai, and later in Beijing, in the early 90s. The basic rules for looking up a character in a dictionary are simple enough though, basically consisting of determining an element that is called the radical and is fairly easy to detect in most characters, and that usually refers to its meaning. The next step is to count the number of strokes in the remaining part, which is usually called the phonetic part of the character, as it refers to the sound. With these two pieces of information the character and a page number can be found in a table, which will lead you to the page in the main body of the dictionary with the character, its pronunciation, and its meaning. Although it was not hard to learn how to find a character in a dictionary, for me there was a serious problem with the actual arrangement of characters in the main body of the dictionary. In most Chinese-English dictionaries characters are arranged according to the sound as written in pinyin and on stroke count, with characters with sounds like 'a', 'ai', 'ang', et cetera at the beginning, and characters with sounds like 'zou', 'zuo', et cetera at the end. In purely Chinese dictionaries, the arrangement is often based on the radical part of the character. In all cases, however, the result is that characters that have the same phonetic part, and therefore look rather similar, are not grouped together. For me as a visual learner, the way a Chinese character looks is mostly determined by the phonetic, which in most characters makes up the main and most prominent part of the character. In

order to remember and spot differences in characters that look almost similar, it is for me important that they stand near one another. It happened frequently that I found myself looking up a new character that in my mind looked very similar to another that I had seen not long before, but was unable to remember which one or where I had seen it. I felt often like a performer I once saw who tried to keep a number of dishes spinning on their sides. As more and more dishes where added he had to run faster and faster to keep them all spinning. In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, I tried creating my own lists of phonetics, but soon found out that there were too many. Besides, I was not very sure which phonetics there actually were and decided to try to find out more about the structure of characters in general. When I found T.K. Ann's (安子介) 'Cracking the Chinese puzzle' I thought that a solution was at hand. In his book professor Ann describes and explains the way characters are composed. The book begins with a description of about 200 basic components, followed by a sort of dictionary in which characters with the same phonetic are grouped together, exactly the kind of arrangement I had been looking for. Unfortunately, finding a particular character in the dictionary part was far from straightforward. The method employed by the author, the so-called four-corner indices method, seemed cumbersome. Besides, it did not make use of the phonetics, and for practical purposes I was still as far as before. The problem of finding a better way to arrange and look up characters became more urgent when in the beginning of 1994 I decided to go to Taiwan to continue my study of Chinese and try to find work. Facing the challenge of having to deal with the traditional characters still in use in Taiwan, and the prospect of having to count the number of strokes in the rather complicated traditional characters, I decided to try to create my own system, based on the list of components in Ann's book. I wondered whether it was possible to extend the list and use it as a complete index for all phonetics in the dictionary part. By analysing all these phonetics I managed to create a list of more than 400 components that were sufficient to uniquely identify all phonetics in the book. Then I arranged these components into a certain order based on some characteristic feature (see the Introduction for details), and grouped Ann's phonetics under the first of its components that could be found in the list. Finally I copied components, phonetics and characters into a notebook and within three months I had the dictionary that I had been looking for.

Of course, the 3,500-plus characters discussed in Ann's book were by far not sufficient for a serious study of the Chinese language. And although the notebook worked reasonably well during my stay on Taiwan, I realised that it had to be extended and improved. One obvious problem was that many characters cannot simply be split into a phonetic and radical part, so I had to find a way to incorporate these as well1. During the following years I created a computerized database system based on standard dictionaries, and was able to print out my first version of the character dictionary in 1998 with about 6,000 characters. Over the years the possibility of getting it published often crossed my mind, because in my opinion it was very likely that there were many others who struggled with remembering Chinese characters. But it took many years of experimenting with different ways of ordering components before a sort of best order was found. Finally, about ten years after the first printout of the dictionary I had created a version that in my eyes looked quite sophisticated. In order to get an independent opinion I sent it to a friend of mine, with whom I had studied Chinese in Beijing. He saw the potential of the new way of arranging characters, but also pointed out the difficulty of getting people to change from a system they are familiar with to a new system. As history has often shown, he said, people will only change to a new system if there are substantial advantages. Besides, doing away with the radicals - that I had discarded altogether in my desire for radical change and replaced with my own system would not make things easier. After pondering these remarks and seeing that there was much truth in them, I decided to go on looking for ways to add to the functionality of the dictionary. I also reintroduced the radicals, although with a smaller set than used in standard dictionaries. One obvious addition to the traditional character based system I had until then was to integrate simplified characters. By adding the simplified counterpart to traditional characters and also giving them their own entry, it was possible to create a system that works just as conveniently for people used to simplified characters as for those used to traditional ones. As basis for all traditional-simplified


For this reason the term 'phonetic' is avoided as much as possible in the introduction. Instead the more inclusive term 'series header' is used.

relations the 两岸现代汉语常用词典 (Straits' Dictionary of Modern Common Chinese) proved to be a reliable guide. Another substantial improvement to the system was the inclusion of etymological descriptions. The book that opened my eyes in this case was 'Chinese characters' by Leon Wieger, published for the first time in 1915. These days, there are several websites that discuss the etymology of characters, and it was not hard to supplement Wieger's descriptions with descriptions for almost all phonetics/series headers. The next step was reviewing the meanings of every character explained in the book and adding example sentences and pinyin transliterations, a work which was completed recently. The basis for this was again the above mentioned 两岸- dictionary, besides websites such as and After these improvements, I began to think that a successful publication might be possible, and started work on an introduction to the system. Finally, I enlisted the help of one of my former students, presently working as assistant-lawyer, for checking and correcting the book, especially the Chinese example words and phrases. Guangzhou, summer 2016

Preface to the e-book edition It has long been my wish to be able to publish e-book editions of the CCD and the Simplified CCD. However, technical difficulties stood in the way, until recently with Kindle's Print Replica a solution has become available. Print Replica e-books have certain limitations, such as that they do not reflow text, and have a fixed page layout. As a result, their use is limited to certain applications and devices, such as the free-downloadable Kindle eBook Readers for laptops, tablets, and cell phones. One great advantage of an e-book is obviously the ability to make use of hyperlinks. In Word the user can change the way hyperlinks are being displayed, with or without underline, change of colour, et cetera. Hyperlinks in a Kindle Print Replica e-book are, however, displayed as a red underline. Sometimes the underline is not under, but runs through the lower half of the character that is meant to function as hyperlink. The user of the CCD is advised to keep in mind that the underline may obscure a horizontal bottom line in a component or series header, such as in category 14 of the MCT.

The layout of this edition is a little different from the paperback. The Table of Contents is of course available from any place, by just clicking on the drop-down menu. When it drops down, the MCT can be seen at the top of the table, as it should, as it is the most important tool for first-time users of the CCD for locating characters. After getting used to the way components are distributed over the categories, it is expected that users will make less use of the MCT, and more frequently turn straightaway to the section where a particular character can be found. Apart from these differences, and a few minor corrections to some of the entries in the main body of the CCD, contents and set-up of the e-book edition are basically the same as in the paperback. Finally, a note about the set-up of the CCD in general, and which also applies to the paperback. The ideal would be to make sure that all characters are listed under their phonetic part, and that the phonetic part can be determined in a straightforward manner by stripping the character of its independently standing radical(s)1. Of course, this is impossible. Like most written languages, the Chinese written language was not designed, but developed over a long period of time and irregularities have evolved. For more information about this, please refer to the remarks in section 5 of the Introduction. Therefore, I have chosen for a more pragmatic approach, and that is one in which all characters can be found with a fairly simple and straightforward method, and in which most characters are listed under their phonetic part. In case of an exception, often a short etymology was added – in italics - to make users aware of the fact and to inform them about the origin of the character concerned. For examples, please refer to the section mentioned above. Taipei, July 2019


Note the plural in 'radical(s)'. Any part of a character that is listed in the radical tables and – for Radical Table 1 - in the required position, is to be regarded as a radical.

Acknowledgments The basis for the arrangement presented in this book was provided by "Cracking the Chinese Puzzle", by T.K. Ann (安子介) (1912 2000). I have never had the honour to meet the professor, but without the insights provided by his work it is not likely that I would have been able at that time to develop this system. Most of the information concerning the etymology of Chinese characters is based on "Chinese Characters", a work by the French Jesuit Léon Wieger (1856 - 1933). Other sources are the website of the Chinese Text Project (,,, and others. Relations between traditional and simplified characters are based on the 两岸现代汉语常用词典 (Straits' Dictionary of Modern Common Chinese). Meanings of characters and example words and phrases are derived from different sources, most important of these are: - 两岸现代汉语常用词典 (Straits' Dictionary of Modern Common Chinese) - (no longer accessible) - - (汉语词典 - Dictionary of the Chinese Language) Finally, I would like to express my thanks to Renzo Hättenschwiler of Switzerland for his invaluable suggestions and support, and to Wu Dan (吴丹) of Henan Province in China, for the many improvements she has suggested regarding the Chinese example words and phrases.

Part I: Introduction to the CCD 1 Quick Start Guide This dictionary offers a quick method for locating simplified as well as traditional characters. Both are dealt with in the same way, in other words: one dictionary, two (writing) systems. To distinguish the one from the other the simplified characters are placed within square brackets. This book is meant for beginning readers of Chinese texts, as well as for those who are more experienced. For this latter group, who may be expected to be familiar with standard Chinese dictionaries, the following Quick Start Guide might be sufficient for locating most characters. More detailed information about the background of the CCD and about how to find any character can be found in sections 2 and 3. Users who are unfamiliar with the concepts of radicals and phonetics are advised to refer to section 4 first. Use of the term 'radical' First-time users of the CCD should keep in mind that the term 'radical' is restricted to the elements listed in Radical Tables 1 and 2 presented at the beginning of the book. The second point to note is that a character in the CCD can contain more than one radical. Quick start guide 1. Remove radicals that are standing apart from the phonetic and are standing on their own, i.e. are not connected to other elements and do not form part of a compound. 2. Turn to the Main Components Table (MCT) and determine which of the remaining components is the first in order, i.e. nearest its beginning (the MCT can be found at the beginning of the book). Click on this first component. 3. This brings up the page with the Character Table (CT) of the first component. At the beginning of the CT is the series header list of the first component. Scan this list to find the header that fits most completely into the character that is to be found, and click on it. 4. Now the page with the series header and the series is displayed. Scan the series to find the character. 18

Example 1: how to find 抬. 1. It consists of two parts: 扌 and 台. Of these, the first is a frequently used radical, and the second is the phonetic. We have to remove the radical as it stands apart and on its own, and continue with the phonetic. 2. The phonetic can be split into ㄙ and 口. Next, turning to the MCT, we see that most components with slanting strokes are located in the first half, and those consisting of a combination of horizontal and vertical strokes mostly in the second half. Indeed, we find ㄙ in category 3, while 口 is in category 16. As ㄙ is nearer the beginning, we take it as the first component and click on it. 3. This brings us to the beginning of the CT of ㄙ in section 3 with the list of series-headers of this component at its beginning. By scanning this list we see that 台 at position 16 fits best into 抬. Click on it. 4. This brings us to the page with the header and the series. We find the character at the fifth entry from the top in the righthand column. Example 2: take the character 幕, 1. This character has at the top the radical 艹 and at the bottom in the centre the radical 巾. Both radicals are not connected to other elements, and therefore have to be ignored in the first step. 2. The remaining components are 日, and below that 大. The first is a square-like form, and therefore can be found in MCT category 16, while 大 consists of diverging lines, and a horizontal one. Components featuring symmetrically diverging lines can be found in category 10. Therefore, 大 is the first component and we click on it. 3. This brings up the page with the beginning of the CT of 大, and the series header list of that component. We see that 莫 at position 17 fits best into 幕 and click on it. 4. This brings us to the page with the header and the series. The character can be found by scanning the series.


Alternative route If the user of the CCD is not entirely certain about what the first component is, then it can be helpful to be able to compare the header lists of a particular section. In this method the first two steps are almost identical as described above, with the only difference that the user should not click on the first component. Instead: Step 2-alt: Instead of clicking on the first component, click on the representative of that category at the left-hand side of the MCT. Step 3-alt: This brings up the page with the Header List Table of the section with this component. This table gives an overview of all header lists in that particular section. Once the header that fits best into the character looked for has been found, the user can continue with the procedure as described in the original step 4. Example 3: how to find the traditional character 懲? 1. Removing the radicals at the left, right, top, and bottom leaves us with the 王-like element in the centre and the small horizontal line on top of it. 2. As the 王-like element consists of horizontal and vertical lines, it should be located in the second half of the CCD. Checking the MCT we see that the representative of section 14 fits best into this element, and therefore it is likely that the character can be found in that section. The small horizontal stroke is similar to the first component of section 17, and so we focus on section 14, as it is nearer the beginning of the MCT. However, as it might be hard to make out whether it is 王, 壬, or 𡈼 we are dealing with, it seems to be convenient to use the Series Header Table and therefore click on the representative 土 of the section in the left-hand column. 3. This brings up the page with the Series Header Table of section 14. In the header list of component 12 (王) we find the simplified header [徵], while in the list of component 14 (𡈼) we find the traditional version 徵. As we are dealing with a traditional character we click on 徵 in the list of component 14. 4. This brings us to the page with the series headed by 徵 in the CT of 𡈼.The character 懲 can be found at the third entry in this series. More examples of how to find characters can be found in section 3 of this Introduction. 20

2 General remarks All characters are grouped into series, and each series is headed by an identifier called the series header (or just 'header'), which is the part that characters of one series have in common. For most characters this header is just what is commonly called the phonetic part of the character, the part that indicates the sound. As can be seen from the above examples, in general it seems to be relatively easy to know what the series header is of a particular characer, because we just have to strip a character of its radical part and are left with the phonetic part, which is usually the series header. However, one should be careful when doing this, because some radicals form part of the series header. Besides, it is important to note that in this CCD we only use a subset of what traditionally are considered radicals. Elements like 丶,丨,丿, 人, 几, and 儿 , which all are considered radicals in standard dictionaries, are not treated as such in this CCD. We focus entirely on radicals that are standing apart from the phonetic part of the character and are frequently used (and therefore relatively easy to recognize). For a complete list of which radicals are included in our definition, please refer to the radical tables at the beginning of the book. The question we have to consider now is: given a certain character, how are we to know with certainty what its series header is and in which CT to look for it? The Main Components Table (MCT) About 7,450 traditional and 1,450 simplified character shapes (glyphs) are listed in the CCD, divided over more than 1800 series. These series are clustered together in 393 character tables (CTs), each characterized by a unique component. All characters have been assigned a CT, and therefore, when creating the CCD we had to decide under which of its components - and therefore, in which CT - characters and headers were to be listed. In order to solve this problem an analysis was made of all non-radical components necessary to uniquely identify phonetics. It appeared that a minimum set of 393 components was required, which was turned into a table called the Main Components Table or MCT (see tables 1 and 2 on the following pages for an overview, or the 21

complete MCT at the beginning of the book). Each character in the CCD has at least one component that is a member of this MCT. By gathering characters under the first of their non-radical components that can be found in this MCT, and grouping them further into series based on the second MCT-component they have in common, and finally ordering them according to the MCT-order of the remaining components, including radicals, it was possible to assign each character a unique place.

3 Finding a character in the CCD Finding a character in the CCD means that the user has to (1) decide which (non-radical) component is the first in the order established by the MCT, and then (2) locate the series header in the header list of that component. After that, (3) the character can be found in the series itself. Therefore, the first step is to strip a character of its radicals and determine the position of the remaining components in the MCT. First-time users of the CCD might at this point have a few questions, such as: Question 1: How do I know how to split a character into components? Answer: Look at the MCT to get an overview of all components used to identify characters. You can find descriptions of representatives and examples of components in tables 1 and 2 on the next pages and the complete MCT at the beginning of the book. Also, take a look at the examples given throughout this introduction. Finally, use your intuition. Question 2: Given the fact that there are 393 components, how am I going to know which component is first? Do I have to learn them by heart? Answer: No. The compiler of this CCD couldn't write down ten components of the MCT in the right order without making a few mistakes. All components are grouped into categories based on their shape. It is the order of the categories that is important to remember. As more than 90% of the characters in the CCD are made up of components that all belong to different categories, it is usually sufficient to focus on the features (called representatives) that define these categories. 22

Question 3: And then? If I have found the category the first component belongs to, how do I find the character in the CCD? Answer: Categories correspond to the sections that make up Part II of the CCD. The CTs of the components in category 1 can be found in section 1, those of category 2 in section 2, et cetera. At the beginning of each section is a table with all header lists of the CTs within that section. As soon as you have determined the first component (and with that the CT), then this table with header lists will guide you to the series with the character. See the examples later in this section. Categories First half of the MCT (see Table 1 on the following page) Components in the MCT are grouped into 17 categories according to their shape. First a global distinction was made between components containing mainly slanting strokes, such as 立, 勿, 乃, 毛, and 大, and those consisting mostly of horizontal and vertical strokes, like 惠, 半, 並, 臼, 口, 日, and 典. The first group, those with slanting strokes, was further split into 10 categories by looking in more detail at their shape and by grouping components sharing the same feature. For each category the component that shows the typical feature most clearly was chosen as representative for that particular category and placed at its beginning. In most cases this representative forms part of (almost) all other components in a category. For example, the representative of category 3a is ㄙ, and it can be seen from the list with components belonging to that category in the table on the next page that all components in that category contain ㄙ, like 禸, 𠫔, and 糸, though some miss the 'hook' in the lower right corner. Components that only partly contain the representative feature of their category, like the last component of category 2 ( ), are usually placed near the end of it. Second half of the MCT (see Table 2 on the page 18) This part of the MCT consists of components with mainly horizontal and vertical strokes. Category 11 can be seen as intermediate between the two halves. Category 17 is for components that are not easy to place in any of the other categories, or were placed here for practical purposes. Besides, it contains a number of components that mainly function as radical. 23

Table 1: categories 1-10, representatives and components



ㄙ禸𠫔 𠫓 𢆶 系 亥

[车] [专] [东] [



弋 戈 曳 我 戊 戉 [戋]



𠂇 [发] [

厂 广 皮 [严]

尸 戶 [户] [卢] 叚


b c 6 7a


] [⺶] 尢 冘

了 子 [𠃓] 龴 乙 乚


two left-falling strokes connected by one horizontal stroke contain the left-'elbow' ㄙ contain the left 'elbow' ㄙ and a vertical crossing stroke bent arm with shoulder right-falling stroke and horizontal stroke crossing left-falling stroke and horizontal stroke crossing left-falling stroke and horizontal stroke touching at the top-left corner a left-falling stroke and a 口-like element at the top contain the right-'elbow'

七 屯乇也 己㔾 艮衣

foot pointing to the right

foot pointing to the left

feet pointing to the right


丁余 乎 手 寸


丂 与 馬 [马] 弓





crossing strokes





diverging strokes touching at the top diverging strokes not touching at the top not symmatrically diverging strokes



foot with bent knee pointing to the left feet pointing to the left

slanting strokes to the left or to the right, but not symmetrically diverging nor crossing

2 3a


'feet' pointing to the right or to the left

shared feature

crossing / diverging


rep. components (examples)

slanting strokes


Note 1: It should be noted that the descriptions of the shared features in these tables are meant as no more than 'rules of thumb', and that no etymological basis is intended for terms like 'elbow', 'foot', etc. in relation to these components. For the historical background of these forms, please refer to the etymologies in Part II. 24

Table 2: categories 11-17, representatives and components 11

木 束 柬林 未㡀 示




虫 彐 十

虫惠禺 彐 聿肅事 十車 干 午乍




土 黑 士工龶王主隹












田申由甲西 面


一 二 竹 非 彳 心阝


shared feature combination of diverging intermestrokes and horizontal/ver- diate tical lines piece of cloth hanging from a girdle contain the insect tail contain the right hand 彐

其甘並五無 用 而 冃 [贝]

言 石 㠯日 白

contain a cross two vertical lines with horizontal lines contain a cross and a horiontal base line two vertical lines with a horizontal base line inverted cup cup on its side, open to the right cup contain a square or rectangular shape

combinations of horizontal and vertical lines

rep. components (examples)

rectangular shapes


rectangular shape with two horizontal lines square shape with crossed lines irregular irregular

Note 2: Special attention is required if a component fits into more than one category, such as 戊, which has the features of both category 4 (弋) and 5 (厂). In such cases the component can be found in the category that is first in order (nearest the beginning of the MCT). Users can verify for themselves that 戊 is indeed a member of category 4.


Examples Example 1: how to find 嶷 After removing the top radical 山 we can distinguish the following representatives (with the numbers indicating categories/sections):



人 10


As 龴 is in the category with the lowest rank number (6), it must be the first component. Clicking on that component in the MCT brings us to the CT of 龴.We find the following header list:

龴 龴 疑 令 [令] The series header we are looking for is at the second position, and clicking on it takes us to the second series, where we find 嶷 at the second position. Example 2: How to find 淘? After removing the radical we are left with 匋. The following representatives can be distinguished:

十 13


凵 15

Clearly, 勹 in category 2 is the first component, as it is in the category nearest the beginning of the MCT. Clicking on it in the MCT brings up the page with the the beginning of section 2, where we find the following header list for 勹: 26

勹 勹 勾 包 匈 匃 曷 匊 蜀 屬 匋 匍 舄 句 敬 匐 訇 旬 甸 勻 [匀] 勺 Series header 匋 is at position 10, and clicking on it takes us to the page with the 10th series, and the character we were looking for. Example 3: How to find 握? Removing the radical leaves us with 屋. The following representatives can be distinguished:


ㄙ3 土 14

Representative ㄙ of category/section 3 has the highest priority (lowest category number), and the character can therefore be found in section 3. As in this case it may not be immediately obvious what the first component is, it is recommended to use the 'detour' by way of the Series Header Table. Therefore, instead of guessing what the first component could be, we click on the representative ㄙ in the column at the left. This brings up the Series Header Table of Section 3. Now we can easily check all the header lists containing ㄙ or 𠫔 to look for the header that best fits into 屋. It appears that it can be found in the list of 𠫔:

𠫔 𠫔 晉 去 [罢] 盍 丟 至 屋 臺 镸 [县] However, there are two headers that fit into the header, the one at position 7 and that at position 8. In this case, the header at position 7 fits completely into the header at position 8, and therefore we choose 屋, as it fits more completely into the character we want to find. Clicking on that header brings us to series 8, where the character looked for (握) can indeed be found. 27

Example 4: how to find 搋 A character with twice component 厂, which have a different function and have to be dealt with differently. First we remove the radicals 扌and the first 厂 at the top, as it is not connected to other elements, and are left with 虎. After enlarging it the following representatives can be distinguished: 厂5

乚7 儿 10

This second 厂 does not stand on its own. Instead, it is connected to other elements and forms the component (see MCT category 5). Therefore, it cannot be considered a radical. Then, clicking on it takes us to the beginning of the CT of where we find the following header list for that component:

虖 豦 虜 [ 虏 ] 虔 虞 [虞] 虎 [虎] 11 虒 [ 虒 ] 號 [ 號 ] 雐 虛 鬳 膚 虐 䖒 21 盧 慮 [虑] Header 虎 is at position 9, but the header at position 11, however, fits even more completely into the character, and as the header on position 9 forms part of the header at position 11 we have to choose the latter. Indeed, 搋 can be found in the 11th series. Example 5: how to find 腩 After removing the radical we still have 南. We distinguish the following representatives: 冂 15

十 13

It is probably clear that the first component in this character should be a member of category 13. But there are two different compo28

nents that are member of category 13: 十 and 𢆉. So which should we choose? In this and similar cases we have to pick the one that comes first. Checking the MCT or the series header table of section 13 it becomes clear that 十 comes before 𢆉 and is the first component of this character, while 𢆉 is the second. The header list of 十 is as follows:

十 十 [质] 盾 𠦝 朝 南 卉 賁 [贲] 隼 11

古 胡 固 [鄙] 單 [单] 阜 早 卓 覃


㥁 直 真 卑

Looking for the header containing the second component (or the header that fits most completely into the character), we find 南 at position 6, and therefore 腩 can be found in the 6th series. Example 6: how to find 激 Finally, a character that should be fairly easy to find, because after removing the right and left radicals we only have to consider 白 and 方. And because 方 contains slanting strokes, while 白 is mostly composed of horizontal and vertical strokes, the former is clearly the first component. It is in category 8 (representative of the subcategory is 力) and the series header table at the beginning of the CT of 方 in section 8 gives us the following:

方 㫃 於 敖 敷 敫

We see that 敫 on position 6 fits best into 激, and therefore this character can be found in the 6th series of the CT of 方. Now, let's turn to what some consider the root of things, as the Latin word for root is 'radix', which gave birth to the term 'radical'. As will be explained in the next section the term 'modifier' might have been a better choice.


4 Radicals When the ancient Chinese needed to create a new character to describe a certain thing or action they often took an existing character that had the same sound as the thing they wanted to describe, and added a suitable meaning element to it that referred to its meaning. For example, a character like 柔 with the sound róu and meaning 'gentle, flexible' had the radical for foot, 𧾷, added to it, creating the character 蹂 with the same sound but a different meaning: 'step on; trample'. It also had the radical for rice, 米, added to it, creating the character 糅, also with the same sound, but in this case the meaning was changed to 'mix, mingle'. Characters created in this way are called phonetic-semantic (i.e. sound-meaning) compounds, and the sound-element is called the phonetic, while the meaning element is called the radical. Some of these phonetic-semantic compounds had in their turn a radical attached to it, creating characters with two or more radicals. As explained earlier, we need to strip characters of all radicals if we want to locate them in the CCD. In the remainder of this section it will be explained in more detail how to recognize them. In this CCD we distinguish two main groups of radicals: a) positional radicals, which are components that only function as a radical if they are in a certain position relative to another component, and b) common radicals, that always function as a radical. We will deal with these groups separately. First group: positional radicals In the CCD we use a subset of the radicals that are commonly covered by this term in standard Chinese dictionaries. The group called positional radicals are those listed in the Radical Table 1 at the beginning of the book. The adjective 'positional' is used because they do not always function as radical, but only if they are in a certain position respective to other components, and are standing on their own (see below). For example, the component 米 (mĭ, rice) from our example in fig. 1 is marked in the Radical Table as a left radical. This is because when it functions as a radical it always stands to the left of a phonetic, such as in 糧 (liáng, grain) in which it clearly points at the meaning of this character. Other examples of 米 used in that way are 糗, 粕, 粥, 粘, 粧, and 籽. In all, there are more 30

than 50 instances listed in the CCD in which 米 stands to the left of another component, while referring to its meaning. In contrast, in a character like 眯 (mī, squint) it functions as phonetic, while the radical 目 (eye) refers to the meaning. Besides, in many other characters 米 is part of a larger structure, also known as ‘compound ideographs’ (or briefly ‘compound’ in this dictionary). Therefore, whenever 米 stands to the left of another component, we say that it functions as a radical, and just modifies the meaning of the component standing to its right, like an adjective modifies the meaning of a noun in English. In general, all components marked as 'left radical' are to be treated as a radical if they are standing independently ('on their own') to the left of another component or compound. And similarly for components marked as 'right radical', 'top radical', etcetera. This is to guarantee that all characters can be found with a simple and straightforward method. How to deal with characters that are made up of two or more radicals will be explained later in this section. 'Standing on its own' In the CCD radicals always 'stand on their own', meaning that they are not connected to other components, nor do they form part of a compound when standing to the left, right, et cetera of another (compound) component. Take 耳 for example. The radical table tells us that it is a left and bottom radical. Next, consider the two characters 聘 and 敢. In the first 耳 stands independently to the left of 甹 and it must therefore be treated as a radical, but in 敢 it is part of the compound and therefore it does not stand on its own to the left of 攵 and it should not be treated as a radical. On the other hand, 攵 is standing on its own to the right of , and because it is listed as a right radical it should be treated as a radical in this case. It is important to note in this context that 'standing on its own' should be taken in a relative sense. For example, 攵 is listed as a (right) radical, and therefore in a character like 綮, where it only stands independently to the right of 户, it must be treated as a radical and discarded in the first step, even though it does not stand to the right of 糸. The reason for this is that as a radical, 攵 only modifies the meaning of 户, that is the only function it has, and so it cannot be a series header. 糸 is listed as a bottom radical, and as 31

explained below, it must also be discarded in the first step. Therefore, the character can be found in the CT of 户. Bottom radicals Bottom radicals are components that have to be treated as a radical if they are standing below another (compound) component, like 魚 in 鱉, 土 in 基, or 手 in 掌. However, some components marked as 'bottom radical' do not always function as radical. They should not be treated as radical if the top part of a character does not function as phonetic, and the character is not a phonetic-semantic compound, but a compound ideograph. In this case the bottom part can function as series header, and should not be discarded in the first step. To help users make the correct decision a few general guidelines are given here, followed by a table with examples. In the following cases a component marked as 'bottom radical' should be treated as a radical: 1. '2+1'-rule: The upper part of the character consists of at least two components standing side by side, while the radical stands on its own below. In fact, the upper part functions in that case as phonetic. 2. 'between'-rule: The bottom radical is placed between the diverging strokes of the upper part, which in that case functions as phonetic. 3. 'five phonetics'-rule: 亦, 萬[万], , 非, and 宓, these five always function as phonetic when combined with a bottom radical. Some examples are given in the following table of components that follow one of these rules, and some instances in which they do not. The right-most column in this table is reserved for characters in which the bottom radical should not be treated as a radical. These are all examples of compound ideographs.


Table 3: Examples of bottom radicals component

糸 子 衣 手 力 女 木 虫 土

must be treated as a radical in the should not be characters below according to the: treated as a radi2+1 rule between 5 phonetics cal in: rule rule

綮繁繫縈纍 學孥 裝製褒褻袈 擎擘攣挈攀 努勢勞 嬖婪嫠娑 渠[缲]梨 螯螫蛩蜑 塑壘


徽索素 孛季李 [孪] 裴裳 褱衷衰 摹拳搴 [挛]掌 拿 募勝 男劣夯另 媵 要婁委妻 寨 棠 果柔琛 [蛮]蜜 禹虽蚩 廛基 堂 墨甄

Second group: common radicals The second group of components that function as radicals are relatively easy to detect, for example 亻,扌,氵,忄,辶,艹, et cetera. They have the lowest priority in the order of components, and must always be excluded when determining which component is the first in a character. A consequence of this is that they never function as a first component, and therefore do not have an entry in the MCT. For an overview of this group see Radical Table 2 at the beginning of the book. Characters with more than one radical Attention should be paid to the special case in which a character consists of two or three radicals next to one another. This is the case in, for example, 蝌. It can be split into 虫 (12, left and bottom radical), 禾 (11, left radical), and 斗 (17)1. As 虫 is to the left of 禾 which in turn is to the left of 斗 both are to be treated as radicals and should be excluded when determining which component is the first. Therefore, this character has be looked for in the CT of 斗 in section 17. 1

Numbers between round brackets indicate the category number in this and other examples in the introduction.


In some characters all components are to be considered as radicals. Take, for example, 撳 (or, in simplified script: 揿). The radical table tells us that 扌 is a common radical, 金 (or 钅) a left radical, and 欠 a right radical. In cases like this the order of priorities is: 1. right radicals (攵, 欠, 見 [见], 頁[页], 羽, et cetera) 2. other positional radicals (in MCT order) 3. common radicals Applying this rule to the above example we exclude 扌 first, then the left positional radical 金 (or 钅), and find 欠 as first component. The character can therefore be found in section 2, with series header 欠. Examples Below several examples are given of how to deal with radicals. Of each character it will be shown what components it consists of, how to determine the first component and what the series header is.


Consists of three radicals: 言 (16, left and bottom radical), 罒 (16, top radical), and刂 (common radical). As all three are radicals, the rule mentioned above should be used. After excluding the common radical we are left with the choice between 言 and 罒. As both are members of category 16 we have to check the MCT (or the header table of section 16) to determine which exactly has the highest priority. It appears then that 言 is the first in order, and scanning the header list of 言 in section 16 we find 詈 as the best fit.

粥. Split into twice 弓

(8, left radical), and 米 (11, left radical). As only the left 弓 has to be treated as radical, we check the header list of 弓 in the header table of section 8, and find the header 弜.

弊 Split into 㡀, 攵 (2, right radical) and

廾 (13). Where should we look for 㡀? How to dissect it? The first representative we can make out in this component is the 'tree' (木) of category 11. Indeed, scanning the components in this category we first find 米, and next to it 㡀. Therefore, it is first in order and turning to section 11 and checking the header list of 㡀 we find series header 敝.

旗. In standard Chinese dictionaries this character can be found by using 方 as radical. However, we deviate slightly from tradition in 34

that we do not treat 方 but as a radical. We therefore split it into (top-left radical) and 其 (14). The character can be found in section 14, under component/header 其.


Split into 髟 (common radical) and 毛 (7, left, right and bottom radical). As a positional radical 毛 has a higher priority than 髟 and as a result the character can be found in the CT of 毛.


Consists of 厂 (5, top-left radical), 鳥 (8, right radical), and 亻 (common radical). As 亻 has to be discarded, we are left with the choice between two positional radicals. In this case 鳥 as right radical has the highest priority. Characters that are hard to find? One of the aims of creating the CCD was to make sure that all characters can be found by using the same method, without the need for any prior knowledge about which component is to be considerend a radical and which not. However, some characters are no doubt not as easy to find as others. This is especially the case if it is not obvious how a character should be dissected. Some examples are therefore given in this section. More examples of characters that may be 'hard to find' can be found in section 7 of this Introduction.

This character should be split into 籴 and 翟. The former is composed of 米 (11, left and bottom radical) and 入 (10), the latter into 羽 (8, top radical) and 隹 (14). Because 羽 is a radical in this case, it should be ignored and the first component is therefore 入 in category 10. Checking the header list it appears that 籴 should be its series header. Note: 米 is not a left radical with respect to 隹, because it does not stand on its own, but as part of the compound 籴. Compare the following two: 戟. Dissect into 戈 (4, right radical) and 𠦝, which can be further split into twice 十 (13) and 日 (16). Ignoring the radical 戈 , we check the header list of 十 in section 13 and find 𠦝 as series header. 栽. Looking more closely at this character, we see that, in contrast to the last example, in this case 戈 is connected to the upper-left 十 35

with which it forms the compound 𢦏. Therefore 戈 does not stand on its own, it does not function as radical and therefore 戈 is the first component. Checking the header list of that component in section 4 we find series header 𢦏. Note: in small print it is not easy to distinguish whether 戈 is connected to 十 or not. Therefore, when in doubt it might be advisable to check the series headed by 𢦏 first. Several frequently used characters are part of this series, such as 截, 戴 and 鐵.

牆. Split into 爿 (17, left radical), 回 (16) and

. The last can be split further into 土 (14) and 从 (10). We find the character in section 10. First component is 从 , series header 嗇. Note: more examples of this kind of 'superimposed' components can be found in section 7 of this introduction.

贏. The top part is the contracted form of

亡 (3), below that are 口

(16), 月 (15, left radical), 貝 (16, left radical), 凡 (10). As 亡 is the

representative of category 3c, we have to turn to section 3c and scan the header list of 亡, where we find series header as the best fit.

5 Traditional vs. simplified characters The CCD deals with traditional characters and simplified characters. One dictionary, two (writing) systems. The simplified characters can be distinguished by their being placed within square brackets. Whenever traditional characters have a simplified counterpart, as is the case with more than 1450 of the more than 7440 traditional characters in this dictionary, the simplified version is placed within square brackets and directly following its traditional counterpart. On their part, most simplified characters also have a separate entry, with the corresponding traditional version placed behind it. Only in cases where a traditional character and its simplified counterpart have the same first component, but differ in at least one of the other components and are therefore member of the same CT, have they been integrated into one series.


Complex and simplified radicals Some radicals have a different form when used in traditional text compared with simplified text. For example, 糹 is in simplified text printed as 纟, and 魚 as 鱼, 車 as 车, 金 as 钅, 風 as 风, et cetera. As can be seen from these examples and from browsing the radical table most traditional to simplified mappings of radicals are quite straightforward and easy to remember. For this reason, when a simplified character differs from its traditional counterpart only in the shape of the radical, and therefore both are member of the same series, then there is no separate entry for the simplified version. However, the simplified version of most of these can still be found between square brackets behind its traditional counterpart.

6 Etymological notes Etymology is the study of the history of characters and words, of how their meaning was formed and how these changed over time. Although the focus of the CCD is not on explaining the development of characters, understanding the reasons behind the composition of a particular character can help to remember the meaning of that character better, and to distinguish it from characters that show similar characteristics. The most important source used for the etymological explanations presented in the CCD and for the information in this section is Chinese Characters, Their origin, etymology, history, classification and signification by Leon Wieger, a French Jesuit. It was published for the first time in 1915. In general, Chinese characters can be divided into two main classes: pictographs (Wieger used the term 'simple figures') and compound forms. Pictographs have a direct relation with a concrete or abstract form. Examples are 鳥 (niăo, bird) and 三 (sān, three). Many of the MCT components introduced earlier in this introduction are pictographs. Compound forms can be divided into two categories: - First category: compound ideographs (Wieger used the term 'logical aggregates'). Components in this category can be split into parts that all have a meaning. An example of this is the character 鬼 kuī. This, as Wieger explains, represents a human form floating in the 37

air, composed of 甶 (head), ㄦ (legs) and ㄙ (whirling of the air). The actual meaning of this character is: "the spirit of a dead man; a ghost; a devil". - Second category: phonetic-semantic compounds (Wieger used the term 'phonetic complexes'). Each character in this category is a combination of a phonetic part, i.e. the part of a character that denotes the sound (the way it should be pronounced), and a meaning element, or radical. An example of this is 瑰 guī, with the meaning "rare, marvelous". This character is a combination of 鬼 and 王, with the former functioning as phonetic, as it does not add to the meaning of 瑰. Only the latter, an abbreviated form of 玉 (jade), points to the meaning of the character. Pictographs and compound ideographs have the longest history, and most were invented long before the invention of the writing brush, which dates back to around 300 B.C.. With the development of the writing brush, writing became more accessible and popular, and with it arose the need for new characters to describe all kinds of things in daily life. The easiest and most straightforward way was to take an existing character with the same sound as the thing they wanted to describe, and to add a suitable radical to it to indicate the modified meaning and to be able to distinguish it from other characters that had the same phonetic and sound. In this way numerous phonetic-semantic compounds were created, based on pictographs or compound ideographs. In order to create a standard for how to write and pronounce the then existing characters, a scholar named Xu Shen (许慎) collected and described thousands of characters in his Shuo Wen Jie Zi (说文 解字), published for the first time in the early 2nd century. He arranged them under chapter headings or bushous (部首), that we know as radicals. This became the standard for later dictionaries. Many of Xu Shen's etymological explanations are used in this CCD. Etymological explanations in the CCD The ancient formation of characters described above is to a certain extent reflected in the set-up of the CCD. When the CTs were created, individual characters, most of which are phonetic-semantic compounds, were grouped under series headers, which in most cases are just the phonetic parts of these characters. Therefore, 38

these series headers are usually the historically older pictographs or compound ideographs. A short etymology is added to these series headers in order to help the user to distinguish these headers from others that look somewhat similar. Phonetic-semantic compounds, on the other hand, usually speak for themselves, as long as one knows the meaning of the radical involved, and the sound of the phonetic. Most characters have therefore been left without etymology. (See below for some tips.) Etymologies for series headers with their sound are placed at the beginning of each series, and printed in italics. The ancient form of the character is added whenever one could be found in the available sources. Unless indicated otherwise, these are in the style of the small seal script, standardized by Qin Dynasty prime-minister Li Si at around 220 BC. Most of the explanations are based on Wieger's researches of traditional Chinese explanations of characters and components. In cases where Wieger did not give a description, or where a better description was available, on-line sources have been used. Headers for which no etymology could be found in the available sources have mostly been left without one. The descriptions have been kept as concise as possible. The following abbreviations are used: - "from" means "is derived from" - ">" should be read as: "was over time changed into" - "