How did 殊, as in: 特殊、殊技、殊荣、殊勋、殊遇、殊遇 come to have it's meaning of special?

歺(歹)+朱 paint out a rather, more, grim meaning if anything...

  • 說文解字:


How did 殊 get to mean special (in a good way)?

  • FYI: The original meaning of「殊」has shifted to「誅」.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 11:24

2 Answers 2


I haven't found any reference on it, so I come out with my own ideas.

Phonetic loan. In the beginning the ancestors created the character 殊, but the same sound also means "special" to them. The ancestors are as lazy as us, so instead of creating a new character, they borrowed the character 殊 to fill the blank. This is not as likely as my next speculation.

Amelioration, a form of semantic change in which a word's meaning is changed from bad to good:

  • Originally means to put to death, which is an extreme measure, hence very and overly.
  • puts life to death, hence different.
  • If it gets to "very" and "different", there is no way to prevent it to mean special.

This, I think, is probably the case. For comparison, the English word dead could also mean very, completely, or exactly, all positive meanings.


殊 Kanji Etymology 日本語の漢字語源・由来 - Brad Warden

As per # (stump) + severed bone/death → sever limbs, leaving only stumpy remains → *special*; *characteristic* (← special type of punishment).

  • That site is not very good - everything seems to be treated as a compound ideogram. The author doesn’t seem to know about sound components very well or at all.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 10:05
  • @dROOOze Are you referring to phonosemantic compounds (形聲字)? I know 形聲字 can split into 意符 and 聲符 some times, but not always! 聲符 can affect the first 意符, and be a second 意符. My teachers told me that the 聲符 can be semantic too! The 聲符 can play a semantic role too, and affect the meaning of the 形聲字. Most Chinese do not know if a word is a 形聲字. Even if they know a word is a 形聲字, they will not know which is 意符 and 聲符. So it is expected that 聲符 is phonetic AND semantic. Make sense?
    – user34654
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 9:21
  • The stack exchanges generally pursue correctness and rigour of information, not "what Chinese people know" or what a random teacher said. We do not care how many native speakers think they know. 聲符 can be semantic too requires hard, traceable evidence in excavated and received texts, something I highly doubt your teacher has any knowledge about.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 9:24
  • I am confused....so you are arguing that 聲符 are NEVER semantic, and ONLY phonetic? That 形聲字 can ALWAYS split and clear cut into 意符 and 聲符?
    – user34654
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 9:25
  • I didn't say that. When 聲符 plays a semantic role it is traced through historical examples or careful analysis. For example, 采 in 採 is both semantic and phonetic, while 唯 in 雖 is not. However, when in doubt, it is not both semantic and phonetic, because if everything is semantic then anything can mean anything else and the idea of a semantic component completely loses any significance.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 9:32

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