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What dictionaries (online, software-based or in paper form) explain the origins of a word and its evolution over time? E.g. how the character was once written, how the usage – and the meaning – changed over time.

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8 Answers 8

Wen Lin is an amazing piece of software that has all of the etymological features you are looking for. The central downside is that it is a bit pricey. Most universities have a copy, though, and there may be the opportunity to get some kind of student pricing discount. (Not sure if that applies to your case.)

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+1, Wenlin is the ultimate dictionary/reference for those who can afford it. Unfortunately, many of us cannot... :( –  dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 24 '11 at 18:05
They have recently cut their prices in half so it now costs $99 to download. I use it every single day, so $99 is really worth it for the value it adds to my Chinese studies. –  rramphal 15 hours ago

I found the ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese to be a great source if you're interested in the evolution of the prounciation and meaning of Chinese words. It avoids etymology of character structure though; for that, I would suggest chineseetymology.org.

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+1 for resources on actual etymology, instead of only character "etymology". –  Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 21 '13 at 23:41
in its own right, character etymology is a worthy endeavor to discover how characters came about. a very good example is 東 and 西 and how they are used to write 東西. many people believe that 東 is the sun setting behind a tree, and 西 a bird in its nest. however, as R. Sears has pointed out, 東 and 西 are better explained as 'bag' and 'basket'—and 東西 as 'what you put into bags and baskets—things, stuff' (cf. German "Sack und Pack", i.e. 'all your stuff'). –  flow 15 hours ago

zhongwen.com has a very limited amount of information on each character's origin.

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There's a list of etymology resources (including a couple already mentioned) on this page: http://mandarinportal.com/etymology.php

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In this post I gave an overview of online resources:

On http://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=en you can see how a character evolved, the simplified and traditional characters.

Another similar website is http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterEtymology.aspx .

Zdict is completely in Chinese: http://www.zdic.net/zd/zi/ZdicE7Zdic9BZdicAE.htm

Here is another website in Chinese (that only supports transitional characters): http://alphads10-2.hkbu.edu.hk/~lcprichi/

As Aristide mentioned http://www.yellowbridge.com has similar functionality.

Although it doesn't show how the characters evolved, I also like http://zhongwen.com It explains how characters are composed out of other characters.

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This is an excellent one (and it's free too ;) )

Yellow Bridge

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I like http://chinese-characters.org It's simple and clear.

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Here's some sites I've look up for you man. Sorry if these are not what your looking for man

www.zhongwen.com/ portal.mandarinportal.com/etymology.php

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