蛇年快乐 Shénián Kuàilè! Happy Year of the Snake! (2013)

February 10, 2013 began 蛇年 shénián, year of the snake. (The previous year was dragon; the next, horse.)

The character 蛇 shé is from 虫 (chóng) ‘worm’ and 它 tā ‘it’. 它 depicted a cobra or python. The ancient sounds of 蛇 and 它 (now shé and tā) were similar. Apparently when 它 was borrowed to represent the word tā ‘other; he, she, it’, 虫 was added to 它, forming 蛇, to represent the original meaning ‘snake’.

The calligraphy above left is by 段玉裁 Duàn Yùcái (1735-1815), who edited an important commentary edition of the dictionary 说文解字 Shuōwén Jiězì. Above right, by 颜真卿 Yán Zhēnqīng (708-784), an upright official, learned scholar, and master calligrapher.

蛇年 is the sixth year in the 12-year cycle. It corresponds to 巳 sì, the sixth of the 12 地支 dìzhī earthly branches (子丑寅卯辰巳午未申酉戌亥).

Other years of the snake include: 2025, 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917, 1905.

See the whole 12-year cycle!