Love transformed

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With the title "Yeah… that totally translates to 'love'", imgur presents the following image:

As soon as I took one look at it, I thought the glyph must be some sort of stylization or deformation of the character ài 愛 ("love"). Perhaps I'm slower on the uptake than others when it comes to this sort of thing, but I had to turn the image upside down and reverse it in a mirror before it hit me what it was.

Tim Leonard, who called this image to my attention, remarks:

TinEye found copies going back as far as 2012, but nothing that looked original, so I have no idea where it came from.

Nor do I.


  1. Lllessur Llihgdots said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    This appears to be the actual etymology of the character "色". I've seen it mentioned in Henshall's A GUIDE TO REMEMBERING JAPANESE CHARACTERS and

    From Henshall
    Once written XXX, YYY shows a person bending. ZZZ also shows a person bending (originally kneeling, but used to indicate bending body in general). Thus one person bending over another bending person, which was a reference to the sex act. It still retains strong sexual connotations, especially in Japanese. It is not completely clear how it came to mean color. However, many scholars feel that it was used to refer to sexual partner, especially from a male perspective, and that it then came to mean sexually attractive, leading in time to attractive/ pretty in a general sense and then by association to colorful.

    Kanji Search Results
    色 (6) ショク ; シキ いろ SIS

    SIS combines 巴 (Type 3 Phonetic) (spread) atop a second figure → sex; lover; mistress → looks; appearance (← motive factors stimulating the sex drive) → color (← complexion ← appearance).

    There is small line drawing next to SIS. The site explains SIS as:
    SIS: Seal Inscription Style
    Shi huang di (始皇帝), founder of the Qin Dynasty (which can be dated from either 246 or 221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), made a priority of rationalizing the writing system. He favored hsiao chuan (小篆), a curvy style used in carving seals.

  2. Jason Cullen said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

    I saw this several years ago, but I also cannot remember where.

  3. Robot Therapist said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

    As I have no knowledge at all of Chinese characters, it immediately struck me as a drawing.

    Does it in fact have any resemblance to "ai" or other real Chinese character?

  4. Scott said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

    I didn't believe it to be a real character for a moment (and I don't have any knowledge about characters either). Probably because I expect characters to fit in a square, while the picture is awkwardly rectangular. They could have fooled me if they had proportioned it better.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 1:27 pm

    @Lllessur Llihgdots

    Thanks for referring us to kanjinetworks.

    It's interesting that the directionality of the imgur glyph and the early form of 色 cited on kanjinetworks is opposite, so looking at it in the mirror would have helped after all.

  6. John Rohsenow said,

    January 26, 2016 @ 8:39 pm

    Isn't there a similar configuration currently used on the web using various
    bars, circles and slashes with the same mng?

  7. heji said,

    January 27, 2016 @ 5:17 am

    To my Japanese eyes, this drawing is completely out of the way constructing any of characters, but appears to be a jumble of Chinese character's strokes, except for one stroke in the center.
    The center stroke, with two corners and one hook, may not exist. If the hook is on the opposite side, there are some characters holding it: 与 (to give), 弱 (weak), 弟 (little brother).
    It should be a pseudo-character, at least in my knowledge of the style used in Japanese 新字体 Shinjitai. It could possibly exist in Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese. SIS is a curvy hook-less style. Sharp hooks appeared in 隷書 (maybe SCRibal form in

  8. Chad Nilep said,

    January 27, 2016 @ 10:18 pm

    @Robot Therapist
    I don't see any resemblance to 愛 or 恋 (both meaning love), but you could argue there is a faint echo of 化 (make, change). Of course, you need to ignore at least three strokes, rotate it anti-clockwise, and… yeah, no, it doesn't resemble it that much.

  9. Ellen K. said,

    January 28, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    To my American eyes, it simply looks like a stick figure drawing, and one that doesn't precisely illustrate love.

  10. More Cowbell said,

    January 28, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    Uh oh! Look at these seal graphs for 色.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    January 29, 2016 @ 9:54 am

    From Wolfgang Behr:

    Quick note on 色, which is really a difficult character:

    Althogh Tang Lan and Xu Zhongshu have argued that the character se4 色
    (OC *s.rək) exists already in OBI, I think He Linyi (Zhanguo guwen
    zidian, p.115) is right in saying that the earliest safe attestations
    are from Chunqiu bronze inscriptions, where it is composed from zhao3 爪
    (*tsˁru-ʔ) “claw” on the left and jie2 卩~卪 (*tsˁik) “kneeling person”
    on the right hand side. Since these are the same components which occur
    vertically in yin4 印 (*ʔi[ŋ,n]-s) “seal, chop, stamp”, some Warring
    States inscriptions add an additional horizontal diacritic stroke to
    distinguish 印 and 色. Moreover, the 爪 part gets misanalyzed as ren2
    人 “person” in Qin and Han inscriptions acc. to He Linyi, so the
    copulating interpretation, tossed around since at least Ma Xulun's 《说
    文解字六书疏证》(written 1917-1939) would be a simple 望文生意 folk
    etymology, based on a late corruption of the character.

    Schüssler (EDOC, 451) tentatively connects *s.rək with an ST root *saar
    (and variants) meaning “healthy, rosy, attractive” and postulates a
    completely ad hoc *-k-suffix on the Chinese side to account for this
    equation. He attributes the shift towards the sexual connotation to
    substrate influence of an Austroasiatic etymon surviving in
    Khmer /srèek/ “to lust after”, which I find totally speculative.

    Sagart (ROC, p. 134) had argued that 色 may be related (as a dialect
    variation?) to 采彩 *s.(h)rˁәʔ (< **-әk ?) “colorful”, which seems quite plausible and points to “colour” rather than “sex” as the primary semantics. Since neither *tsˁru-ʔ nor *tsˁik are good phonophorics in *s.rək and 色 has no xiesheng series to draw upon, one is basically thrown back to a syssemantic (huiyi-style) interpretation and it is anyone's guess, what the semantic relationship of [claw+kneeling person] to either “colour, countencance” or “sex” was, if any. On the other hand, if He Linyi is wrong, and the 爪 part _originally_ a version of "person" (人), as his former clsass mate Tang Yuhui 湯餘惠 has argued (Kaogu yu Wenwu 1993.2), the “a tergo” interpretation might be correct after all. However, in that case, the rare Shuowen character qi4 㞚, glossed as 從後相臿也 (“insert from the back”) which Tang adduces to support his graphic analysis phonologically as a word family member of 色 is certainly problematic as well: 色 *s.rək and 㞚 *s.qhr[ə]p or *mə-[tsh]r[o]p are hard to reconcile unless one assumes some wild 對轉 relationships.

  12. Matt Anderson said,

    January 29, 2016 @ 5:48 pm

    Here's an image giving a few different early versions of 色:

    From left to right, these are:

    1) a Chunqiu bronze inscription
    2) Zǔ Chǔ wén 詛楚文 (Warring States period)
    3) Xinyang Chu bamboo strips (Warring States)

    (the three above are hand copies from He Linyi's Zhanguo guwen zidian; I'm not sure what their contexts are)

    4) Shuihudi bamboo strips (Qin)
    5) Mawangdui silk Laozi A (Han) (the second graph is 色)

  13. JS said,

    January 29, 2016 @ 11:58 pm

    Se 色 (the word) seems so naturally a euphemism when applied to the sensual/sexual that it's hard to come to terms with the idea that reference to this domain could have been direct… anything is possible, but I prefer the idea of a connection to the word cai 彩.

    And maybe the best solution for the graph is that 色 and 采 are from a common(ish) source — or, at least, that the former graph was also designed to write 'select' and later applied to 'color'.

    For an early Chinese spooning graph, perhaps the place to look is 比?

  14. David L Rattigan said,

    February 3, 2016 @ 3:36 am

    You'd have to be a pretty depraved and perverted individual to get the joke straight away.

    Took me about 0.07 seconds.

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