Mysterious Chinese Characters (18): Fu
夫 (Fu) in Chinese is especially used with the connected characters 丈夫 (zhangfu), husband, spouse, and consists of the two ideograms 大 (da) and 一 (yi). 大 means big, because in contrast to a woman, a man was always bigger in the imagination of the Chinese people.
The Chinese character 一 originally means the number 1, but symbolizes in the pictorial connection with 大 the hairpin, which men traditionally wore. Long hair in ancient China, just like in many other countries, was not unusual for men. Not only women thought that hair is a valuable possession, but men took care of their hair also. Accordingly, there were many hair styles. Oftentimes, on the basis of the hair style, one could recognize that person’s social position. Farmers and workers would often put up their hair due to their hard physical labor. They therefore often wore the bun hair style, which was held together with a hairpin.
The second character丈 is an increase and accentuation of the masculine and corresponds to the unit of length of three and a half meters. Thus丈 shows the size and strength of the husband. The character 夫 reflects basically the attitude of ancient China and is equivalent to the currently used character 男 (nan). The character 男 is composed of the sign 田 (tian) for field and 力 (li) for strength. A husband therefore had to be big and strong because he had to cultivate the field in order to feed the family.
Confusingly for non-native speakers, 夫 is also very similar looking to many other Chinese characters, such as 天, 夭, 矢, 末, 未, and 失. Many of them are based around the character 大, but all have their own meanings.