淡々 [たんたん] – disinterest; indifference

  • 淡 [タン・あわい] – thin; pale; fleeting
  • 々 – symbol that indicates repetition of the previous character

To me, the kanji 淡 is a great example of how understanding pieces parts can help you to both understand and remember characters.  It comprises 3 distinct radicals, 2 of which are repeated: 水 (water) + 火 (fire) + 火 (fire) = 淡.

Does it make sense that adding water to fire would make the fire appear fleeting or faint?  Does this give you a picture of how the Chinese may have thought of this concept when formulating this character?

When water is used as the 部首 [ぶしゅ] (radical of a kanji), it is called 水部 [すいぶ].  When it is in the left portion of a kanji and rendered as 氵, it is called さんずい.  It looks like 3 droplets of water, doesn’t it?

When fire is used as a radical, it is called 火部 [かぶ].  Often, it occurs in its full form (火) in the left or right portions of a character (偏旁 [へんぼう]).  However, when it shows up in the bottom–literally the “foot” (脚 [あし]) of a character–it is rendered as 灬.

As mentioned above, 々 is a symbol, not a character.  It indicates that you should pronounce the previous kanji again.  々 acts as a shortcut, making it so that you don’t have to write out the character twice.

See if you can use this information to help you crack open unfamiliar kanji!