Meanings of Hebrew Letters and Chinese Radicals

The Hebrew letters and Chinese radicals were created at a time when humans first began writing with those two types of writing systems, so each letter and radical also has a meaning associated with it. For example, the Hebrew letter bet also means "house", and was a small picture of a house. The Hebrew letter zain means "sword", and looks like a sword with a handle on top, and so on. While not all of the 22 Hebrew letters still have their exact meanings today, a number of them do. The chart here shows the closest meanings to the original Hebrew letters, and also some other words that are similar, or come from the same Hebrew "root".

While completely different, the 200 Chinese radicals also all have meanings, and each represents a small picture of an object. The Chinese character ri, meaning "the sun", comes from a circle with a dot in it, the character niao, meaning "bird", comes from a picture of a bird, and so on.

Note: The forms of Hebrew letters and Chinese characters have changed over the centuries. With the earliest Hebrew letters, the pictures can be seen more clearly. After about a 1000 years, though, the Hebrew letters took on somewhat different forms. Similarly with Chinese - the characters of a few thousand years ago are more similar to the original pictures than the characters of today. Additionally, there exist both traditional and simplified forms of Chinese characters. (The simplified forms are shown on this page). The traditional characters are officially used in Taiwan and other places, and the simplified characters are officially used in the People's Republic of China and other places. However, most Chinese are able to read both forms. The traditional characters may more closely resemble the original pictures. For example, the traditional character for horse, ma, has four short verticle lines representing four legs, while in the simplified character, the four short lines have been replaced by one long horizontal line (see chart).