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I'm curious whether the shorter stroke or longer stroke are the extra strokes added to 木 to form the characters 未 and 末? And do these strokes have a semantic significance? I learned that 本 has the extra stroke at the bottom for the meaning of root. I'm expecting that 未 and 末 have a comparable explanation that might help me remember them, as I'm continually getting these two mixed up.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

末 is logographically comparable to 本. The top stroke indicates the top branches of a tree, the end of the tree. Hence the meaning "end".

However, 未 is unrelated to both characters above, it is just a representation of a tree. It is one of the twelve earthly branches, and as such a character that once had some original meaning that is now lost to us; it has been abstracted to mean "not yet".

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《说文解字》:……未……六月……木老於未。象木重枝葉也。…… I assume there's some relationship between 未 and 木. –  Rephinx May 7 at 8:20
    
Ah, I didn't realize it was one of the earthly branches. Also, I was poking around a bit more and found this description on Uncle Hanzi's etymology for 未: "Primitive pictograph 未. A tree with new branches (buds) 未 indicating something that has yet to arrive. Meaning future." Does this conflict with your comment about 未 being unrelated? –  Kevin Bullaughey May 8 at 18:21
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