Radish = Dream divination?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about this absurd simplification.

The word radish in Mandarin is 蘿蔔(luó bo). It is a disyllabic word like “butterfly” 蝴蝶 or “camel” 駱駝. Just like any of these words, its characters contain a semantic component, which gives us a hint as to its meaning, and a phonetic component. In this case we have 羅(luó) and 匐(fú). The pronunciation of 蔔 has changed over time and is no longer very phonetic with regards to its phonetic component. Nonetheless, this is the word “radish”.

Now in the simplification process, 羅 was simplified to 罗, thus 蘿 became 萝. The character for “dream”, 夢(梦 in simplified), looks very similar to this character. The only difference is the addition of a 冖.1

卜(bǔ) is a character that already exists and means “to practise divination; to foretell; to predict”. 蔔 was completely replaced by a character that already exists and means something completely different! Now because of this simplification, 卜 has two different sets of meanings. On top of that, 卜 is not a lot more phonetically accurate than 匐.

Anyways, a Taiwanese friend of mine told me that when she saw 萝卜 written while chatting with some Chinese people she completely misunderstood what the person had written.

夢卜 蘿蔔SC

Very subtle, huh?

So the next time you see 萝卜, it’s not dream divination, it’s radish!

Notes: 蘿蔔 correct font 夢卜 correct font


  1. A lot of fonts display 夢 with the grass radical 艹, however, this is incorrect. You can see here and here the 說文解字 versions(小篆) of both 草 and 夢. What is on top of 夢 is actually this grapheme, which is a pictograph of sheep horns. Here are the correct versions of them in the traditional script. [return]