Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Etymology of the letter 沙


Recommended Posts

I've looked up the etymology for the letter 沙 but couldn't find something I can rely on...

An etymology I would have liked it to be is "少 (little, few)"+"水 (water)", thus -> desert.

Is that a good guess? Or is it just too obvious and closed minded? What have you found about it?


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.


I think the first thing you should be aware of is that it is not a letter, it is a Character. There is a difference.

If you just want something to help you remember the character and how to write it, your idea is good enough. It needs to be some thing you can remember easily.

As to the actual etymology I am not sure what you mean by "something I can rely on". If there is an established origin for this character then you have to go with it, but if it is just for your use, anything that makes sense to you is allowable as long as you are aware that this is what it is.

You could try looking here www.chineseetymology.org

Good luck

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
Confused Laowai

I use longwiki.net these days to check out the etymology and other interesting facts about Chinese characters. It is all in Chinese, but I can give you a translation.

Basically, the original meaning 沙 meant "very fragmented (smashed) rock pieces". The bronze script character had, like you said 水 on the left and 少 the right. The original character wasn't 少, but rather represented tiny granules. It later evolved into the more standardized form.

Thus, the original character probably referred to sand on river banks or on beaches. The tiny smashed granules formed by the water crashing about.

So that is where 沙 refers to desert, because it refers to the sand.

I think it's actually quite funny that the present form of the two components actually relate to a desert, like you mentioned. Little water. I like that. I wouldn't have been surprised if it did.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites


stones scattered by water, from 水, from 少, when there's little (少) water (水), 沙 can be seen, to the East of Chu there's 沙-water

But 許慎 could be wrong here. 少 may as well be phonetic. We will never know I guess.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 8 months later...

Hi, I am looking for the etymology for 知 (know)?

I use longwiki.net these days to check out the etymology and other interesting facts about Chinese characters. It is all in Chinese, but I can give you a translation.
This site no longer seems to exist? :(
You could try looking here www.chineseetymology.org
This site has no actual explanation...but shows an intriguing Bronze Age pictogram that seems to depict a guy holding a vessel next to something?


And also a later seal script version also showing a guy perhaps similarly collecting...maybe...rainwater from...


...a cloud ()?


Perhaps the meaning of the Chinese "know" is to (loosely) "collect wisdom from Heaven?"

But in its modern form, 知 is composed of a 矢 (arrowhead) by a 口 (mouth). Or is that just a mutated simplification of the previous?

So, any other resources or ideas, anyone?? :shrug:


Link to post
Share on other sites

Without having looked it up, I believe that's 亏 (于), not 云.

The words 知 and 智 were written with the same graph at one point (they are related words, after all), probably 知 or something like it (maybe with the 于), and then developed into something more complex, and were later distinguished by writing one without the 曰 (or 白, or 自, depending on which document you're looking at) and one with it.

That's an oversimplification, of course, which should be evident just from looking at the variety of ways each word was written.

智 is glossed in the 說文 as "識詞也" and 知 as "詞也." For 知, the 說文 says "从口从矢," meaning it was a 會意字 or "associative compound" composed of 口 and 矢. That would imply that 矢 isn't operating as a phonetic here, or at least 許慎 didn't think so. Again, without looking it somewhere up it's hard to know if modern scholars agree. And yes, the bronze character you posted does look to me like it contains 大, which would be a person, but then sometimes 大 and 矢 are difficult to distinguish, so who knows.

Hopefully this helps.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...