Bones of the Living, Bones of the Dead
7 May 2015
(Note: The default for Chinese hanzi at this page is the simplified form. However, if the traditional form differs significantly from the simplified, it is given first.)
I only recently became conscious that Japanese and Chinese use different words for skulls and skeletons according to whether they are part of the living body or just dead bones. (Of course, I was aware of the Japanese vocabulary involved, but had never given much thought to how it was differentiated.)
One set of words refers to the bones of the body in the same terms as the English word 'frame' (as in, 'He has a large frame'). Another set of words is used for the skeletons or skulls of the dead.
The Chinese term 骨骼 gǔgé is used for the skeleton or frame in the anatomical sense. Less common is 骨架 gǔjià ‘bone frame’, which may also be found in non-anatomical contexts, such as the framework of a building.
For a dead skeleton (or skull -- it could be either), Chinese uses the term 骷髅 kūlóu. Other terms are 骸骨 háigǔ for the bones of the dead (a skeleton), as well as 白骨 báigǔ ‘white bones’ and 尸骨 shīgǔ ‘cadaver bones’.
In Japanese, the normal word for a skeleton in the anatomical sense is 骨格 kokkaku. This can also refer to the framework of a building. The more homely word 骨組み hone-gumi 'bone framework' similarly refers to the frame of a person, and can also refer to the framework of a presentation or plan.
When referring to dead bones or a dead skeleton, however, the usual term is 骸骨 gaikotsu. The term 白骨 hakkotsu ‘white bones’ is also used.
The normal Chinese anatomical term for the skull is 頭骨/头骨 tóugǔ ‘head-bone’ or 顱骨/颅骨 lúgǔ.
For the dead, the term used is 骷髅 kūlóu (as noted above, also used for the skeleton). The term 髑髏/髑髅 dúlóu is found in more literary contexts.
The everyday Japanese term for the bones of the skull (cranium and mandible) is 頭蓋骨 zugaikotsu. According to Wikipedia, in anatomical contexts this is read tōgaikotsu. In biological anthropology the term is 頭骨 tōkotsu ‘head-bone’.
For the skull of a dead person, on the other hand, the normal Japanese term is 髑髏 dokuro, from the Chinese. This is also read share-kōbe, sare-kōbe or shari-kōbe, meaning ‘bleached head’ and etymologically unrelated to the characters that are used to write it.
The everyday Chinese word for ‘bone’ is 骨頭/骨头, previously read gútou but since ‘standardised’ to gǔtou (at least on the Mainland). This is felt to be a very colloquial term, however, especially since in its written form it includes the suffix 頭/头 tóu ‘head’. Therefore, in more formal written contexts the normal word for a bone is 骨 gǔ.
The native Japanese word for ‘bone’ is 骨 hone. This is found in the everyday names of bones like 背骨 se-bone ‘backbone’ and あばら骨 abara-bone ‘rib’. In anatomical usage, however, it is normal to use Chinese names for the bones, much as English prefers to use Latin. This demonstrates the huge influence that Chinese medical and anatomical studies had on Japanese in the pre-modern period.
The character for 'bone' in Japanese and Traditional Chinese is slightly different from that used in Simplified Chinese, although this may not show up properly on this web page.
The Chinese simplified character is .
The Japanese and Traditional Chinese character is .
That's right, the little box in the top part is facing in a different direction.
Names of major bones
Names of some important bones include (Chinese given traditional character first, simplified second):
|Inferior maxillary bone, jawbone, mandible||下頜骨/下颌骨
|Scapula or shoulder blade||肩胛骨
|Clavicle or collar bone||鎖骨/锁骨
|Sternum or breastbone||胸骨
|Humerus or arm bone||肱骨
|Ulna or elbow bone||尺骨
|Pelvis or hip bone||骨盤
|Femur or thigh bone||股骨
|Tibia or shinbone||脛骨/胫骨
|Fibula or calf bone||腓骨
The clavicle is known literally as the 'chain bone, named for the fact that this was where prisoners were chained together with neck collars.
Despite being almost identical, Japanese has slightly different terminology for the humerus and the femur. The difference is not greatly significant -- for instance, 大腿 dàtǔi is simply the Chinese word for 'thigh'. Note also that Japanese substitutes the simpler character 甲 for the original 胛 in 肩胛骨 kenkōkotsu 'scapula'.
Surprisingly, the other main languages of the Sinosphere, Korean and Vietnamese, don't rely nearly as much on Chinese.
For the names of bones, Korean has both Chinese-based vocabulary (based on Japanese usage) and native vocabulary. The native names for the bones use the Korean word for 'bone', which is 뼈 ppyeo. The Chinese-based vocabulary uses 골 gol, which is the Korean reading of 骨. The native vocabulary appears to be somewhat more common in general Korean usage than the Chinese-based.
Vietnamese uses mainly native vocabulary based on the native word for 'bone', xương. There are exceptions, such as the word for 'pelvis', cột sống, which uses the Chinese-based morpheme cột (the Vietnamese reading of 骨), but Chinese-based namings, which theoretically must have existed at some stage in some form, are not even listed in most dictionaries. Names of bones tend to be based on body parts. Note that the đùi in xương đùi (femur) is from Chinese 腿 tuǐ.
|Inferior maxillary bone, jawbone, mandible||아래턱뼈
|Scapula or shoulder blade||어깨뼈
|Clavicle or collar bone||빗장뼈
|Sternum or breastbone||흉골
|Humerus or arm bone||위팔뼈
|xương cánh tay|
|Ulna or elbow bone||자뼈
|Pelvis or hip bone||골반 (骨盤)
|Femur or thigh bone||넙다리뼈
|Tibia or shinbone||정강뼈
|xương ống chân, xương chày|
|Fibula or calf bone||종아리뼈
Since this site now includes Mongolian within its scope, we'll finally list the Mongolian names of the major bones. While they differ somewhat between Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, there has been no lexical borrowing from Chinese.
|Inferior maxillary bone, jawbone, mandible||эрүү
|Scapula or shoulder blade||дал
|Clavicle or collar bone||эгэм
|Sternum or breastbone||өвчүү
|Humerus or arm bone||бугалга
|Ulna or elbow bone||богтос
|Pelvis or hip bone||аарцаг
|аарцаг, аарцаг яс
aarchag, aarchag yas
|Femur or thigh bone||дунд чөмөг
|Tibia or shinbone||шаант
|Fibula or calf bone||тахилзуур
|нарийн шилбэний чөмөг
nari:n shilbeni: chömög
While the Inner Mongolian names differ to some extent, most names in the Inner Mongolian column are also known or used in Mongolia, and vice versa. The addition of яс yas 'bone' to many names in Inner Mongolia is possibly due to the influence of Chinese models.