Chinese Characters: Sweep (掃)
Chinese Characters: Sweep (掃)

The character 掃 (sǎo), to sweep, is the evolved replacement of the original form 帚.

The original character 帚 can be traced back to an Oracle bone inscription that was a simple pictograph of a sweeping tool. It resembles a bunch of reeds tied to a rod by threads. In Bell-Cauldron, or Bronze, inscription,  冖 (mì) was added in the middle of the character, which indicates to bind the reeds up even tighter.

In Seal script, the top part represents爪 (zhǎo), claw, or 抓 (zhuā), grab, while the lower part is an upside-down “丰” (fēng), which represents 篲 (huì), meaning broom. Combined, the elements in the Seal script illustrate the meaning of holding a broom to sweep the floor.

During the evolution of the character, 帚 became a noun when the bamboo radical was added on top of it. 箒, as a variation, is pronounced zhǒu and means broom.

At one point, the hand radical (扌) was added to form 掃, a hand with a broom. It functions as a verb to signify the meaning “to sweep” and is pronounced sǎo.

In modern Chinese language, the character 掃is usually used in combinations to indicate sweeping with a broom, such as in the words, 掃地 (sǎo dì), sweep the floor, 打掃 (dǎ sǎo), to clean, and in 掃墓 (sǎo mù), sweep a grave or tomb.

Sometimes, it is also used in word combinations that have more abstract meaning, such as in the expression 威嚴掃地 (wēi yán sǎo dì), lose one’s dignity or authority (one’s dignity sweeps the floor).

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