A new derivation of the Sinogram for verb "fly"

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From Anne Henochowicz:

See the old derivation for fēi 飛 (traditional) / (simplified) here and here, which supposedly depicts a bird flying upwards.

Jokes aside, here's what really matters:


Cognate with (OC *pɯn, “appearance of birds flying slowly”) and (OC *pɯns, “spread wings and fly”).


(BaxterSagart): /*Cə.pə[r]/
(Zhengzhang): /*pɯl/

(source, 2.2 and 2.3)

See also Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (Honolulu:  University of Hawai'i Press, 2006) — the first and only genuine etymological dictionary of Sinitic — p. 233, for additional cognates and comparative material.


Selected readings


  1. Chris Button said,

    March 10, 2021 @ 9:08 am

    Love it. Effortlessly summarizes the problem of so many ridiculous interpretations of Chinese characters!

    As for 飛, much of the word family is captured in the phonetic series of 非 (although 非 itself is used just for its sound to represent 不隹). The supposed oracle-bone form for 飛 in the wikipedia entry is almost certainly incorrect (not the first such case by any means). Takashima has a good discussion of the form in question in his Bingbian commentary.

  2. ~flow said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 5:29 am

    In comparison to some of the weirder explications one gets to see—it's plausible!

  3. Chris Button said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 7:58 am

    @ ~flow

    Yes. It's ironic that the supposed oracle bone form (plus description) for 飛 on the Wikipedia page is almost as ridiculous as the airplane here!

  4. ~flow said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 8:10 am

    @ Chris Button

    If by Wikipedia page you mean https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%A3%9B well https://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=%E9%A3%9B does have the pixel-identical same OBI form, and their explanation 象形字,象鳥煽翅飛翔之形,本義為鳥在空中拍翅的動作。 also matches the one from Wiktionary.

  5. Chris Button said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 1:52 pm

    Yes that's the one. Graphic interpretations of oracle bone forms should be treated as circumspectly as reconstructed forms of Old Chinese sounds.

  6. Fei said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 3:57 pm

    Where does that bizarre stroke order come from? It's neither the Taiwan / Hong Kong order nor the Japanese/Korean order.

    If we label the order in the image above as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9, the ROC / Hong Kong order is 1-2-3-7-8-4-5-6-9 and the Japanese/Korean order is 1-2-3-9-7-8-4-5-6.

  7. ~flow said,

    March 13, 2021 @ 4:00 am


    I could say more about the stroke order of 飛 if anyone is interested but for the purposes of this post suffice it to say that it's not a binary choice between correct and wrong except if you see it through the lens of one particular standard. It used to be more a matter of taste and cultural and regional convention than hard-and-fast rules, and it has perceptibly changed even over the course of the last hundred years. For example, according to my sources, 王 (and 玉) used to be, in the ROC, preferentially written as 一丨一一(丶) (= 丁二(丶)), and you can still see that in the majority of calligraphic works; yet nowadays, in China the more regular 一一丨一(丶) (= 一土(丶)) seems to be favored by official standards, whereas in Japan, the first strokeorder (i.e. 丁二(丶)) is still common.

    As for 飛, it is a character that belongs (together with e.g. 女, 本, 必) to a smallish number of characters that have what has been called 因襲筆順 'conventionalized strokeorder' that are in violation of the rules for model script 楷書. These characters typically (本, 必, 飛) have many variant strokeorders (女 being an exception) and also subtle variants (like 本 and 夲) that may be the result of alternative strokeorders.

    A further complication comes from the influence of grass script 草書 where what is regarded as plain wrong in model script is often the preferred way of writing.

  8. Fei said,

    March 13, 2021 @ 10:00 am

    ~flow wrote:

    >I could say more about the stroke order of 飛 if anyone is interested […]

    I'm interested :)

    One thing I'd like to know is if anyone is surprised to see a stroke order which is not in any of the modern standards in this context, i.e. (a parody of) a 21st century learning resource.

  9. ~flow said,

    March 14, 2021 @ 7:54 am

    @Fei A quick glance of the forms presented at http://www.sfds.cn/98DB/3/ makes me think that just *maybe* this could be influenced by grass script, some forms of which look like two 飞 stacked on top of each other, linked, and with the two dots omitted once or replaced by single final dot.

  10. Josh R. said,

    March 14, 2021 @ 7:39 pm

    I, for one, find the stroke order in the picture to be much more intuitive and easy to use than the standard Japanese order, which I continue to struggle with. (Partly due to rarely ever having the need or opportunity to write out 飛 by hand, of course.)

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    March 16, 2021 @ 3:45 pm

    If I try really hard, I can see how the first Sinogram might be derivable from the graphic of the aircraft, and I can certainly see how the final Sinogram can be derived from the penultimate (and is a far more stylish version thereof, IMHO) but the second and third are so similar that I cannot see what value is added by adducing both. Would not (1) aircraft, (2) ?grass script? and (3) regular script have been sufficient ?

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