Title, and also make a new tag called glyph origins (as per Wiktionary) or paleography.

Right now, the tag etymology is glossed with Questions about the origin and the history of Chinese characters or words. This is strictly incorrect; among linguists, etymology only refers to words, and cannot be used to refer to the glyph origins of Chinese characters but only the words that they represent; the latter really belongs to the study of paleography.

For example, a question like what is the etymology of 我 is very ambiguous under the current tag description. The correct answer to this question would be something like

represents the first-person pronoun, originating from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *ŋa, cognate with and .

A separate question on the glyph or paleographic origins/history should get an answer like

originally depicted a long-stemmed raked/saw-toothed weapon. Graphically, it is decomposable into enter image description here, originally the saw-tooth part, and enter image description here, originally the stem part, which highly resembles .

  • See some oracle/bronze/Chu-script forms: enter image description here.
  • It is unclear whether 我 actually ever referred to the weapon itself; to date, there are no known examples of such writings. In contrast, its use as the first-person pronoun has been documented since oracle bone writings. For example, 我 in 《詩・破斧》「既破我斧,又缺我錡」should be interpreted as 'my' rather than the weapon, as already refers to the rake-like weapon. The use of 我 in other places in the text also refers to possession.

I also have been guilty of interpreting etymology as glyph origins instead, for example in The etymology of 半, but in this case I already knew that the OP was asking for an explanation of the glyph origins.

The corresponding description on Japanese StackExchange says

語源. The study of the origin of words and the historical development of their meanings. Sometimes used for kanji as well; we currently don't have a separate tag for character origins.

which could also be a compromise for now.

1 Answer 1



I'd say go ahead and edit the tag for etymology and edit & re-tag incorrectly tagged questions with paleographic origin or glyph origins while defining its tag.

It's a lot of work, there are:


questions tagged

with etymology at the moment. If you're up for it, though, it'd make a big improvement on the site and it would totally be a lot easier to fix now than in the future.

  • hmm..I don't have the privilege to create a new tag yet..
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 15:09
  • @droooze aight, which name do you think is more appropriate for the new tag paleographic origin or glyph origins? I can create it and then you can edit it and edit posts.
    – Mou某 Mod
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:36
  • "glyph-origin" would follow the Wiktionary naming convention, so that'll do. Also, I'll suggest an edit to the "etymology" tag to better reflect linguistic conventions after all the glyph-origin tags have been appropriately assigned.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:42
  • @droooze okay I created one on this question: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/28023/… - glyph-origin can be edited here: chinese.stackexchange.com/edit-tag-wiki/390
    – Mou某 Mod
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:59

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