Ideogrammic compound (會意) – two men back to back. Originally meaning “back”; the character 背 (OC *pɯːɡs, *bɯːɡs) refers to the original word.
The sense of “north” is derived from “back (of body)”: “back” > “to turn the back to; to retreat” > “north”.
The ancient Chinese value the southern direction and houses are traditionally oriented along a north-south axis, as evident in the fengshui theory and orientation of buildings in Chinese Neolithic sites. North is the direction the back is oriented to when the person is facing south.
Compare the graphical origin of 南 (OC *nuːm, “south”) (Sagart, 1988).
- pak - vernacular;
- pok - literary.
- north; northern
- 東／东 (dōng)
- 西 (xī)
- 南 (nán)
北 • (buk, bae)
- Sound (hangeul): 북, 배 (McCune-Reischauer: puk, pae, Yale: pwuk, pay)
- Name (hangeul): 북녘, 달아나다 (revised: bungnyeok, dalanada, McCune-Reischauer: pungnyŏk, talanada, Yale: puknyekh, tal.anata)
- the north, the northern part
- (figuratively) North Korea (used in news media)