I find it hard to imagine how the character 矢 looks like an arrow (perhaps a "big" man with a spear on top of his head, I dunno).

Can someone please explain this in terms of oracle bone scripture character evolution, Unicode characters or something?

The character 丢失的失 also looks similar, and might be related. Not to speak about 矮子的矮 where arrows 矢 are shorter than spears (not sure what character you'd user for a spear), women 女 on average shorter than men, and grains 禾 smaller than X, can't remember what X is.

  • 2
    If you are only interested in how to remember it, you can see the 大 is the arrow and 矢 is an arrow hit the target.
    – EXL
    Oct 9, 2016 at 22:27
  • You'd have to stretch your imagination Emma to imagine that, but I can see it working. Thanks. Oct 10, 2016 at 12:58
  • @EmmaXL Well, the one down side of using your method of remembering is you might think 矢 means bull's eye mistakenly. Oct 10, 2016 at 13:14
  • @DanielCheung How does that work?
    – EXL
    Oct 10, 2016 at 13:30
  • @EmmaXL Because you said imagine 大 as an arrow? So the whole character would mean something that contains an arrow and a target? Oct 10, 2016 at 13:44

2 Answers 2


Chinese characters originally looks more different when written in older script, e.g. Oracle Script, as stokes get simplified more and more and curvy strokes are then converted to straight lines and boxy characters, eventually, different characters look alike.

According to http://www.chineseetymology.org,

矢 originally looks like this in Seal Script:


Primitive pictograph 矢. An arrow. Meaning arrow.

失 originally looks like this in Seal Script:


Augmented pictograph 失. Augmentation 丿(something lost) to hand 手 indicating dropping something. Meaning lose.

And for reference, hand 手 in Seal Script:

enter image description here

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    TBH that doesn't look like an arrow at all😂 it might be better to refer to earlier forms. Oct 10, 2016 at 7:26
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    @WangDingwei Well, you can search up the character on that site. But I think people can get the idea from this explanation. Also, although the Bronze Script looks like an arrow, it doesn't resemble 矢 at all, so I think using Seal Script for explanation is rather effective. Oct 10, 2016 at 9:13
  • It's true though, I've always found these old photographs don't resemble the modern characters at all. Oct 10, 2016 at 13:00

If you use the right resource, you can get a better idea of the glyph evolution sequence. "Archaic character forms" can refer to anything from before ~600 CE, so just simply providing something "archaic" is insufficiently informative.

chineseetymology.org, or vividict.com (another one that's often suggested) are not right resources. Please use 小學堂字形演變 for pre-Han scripts and 中華語文知識庫 for Han dynasty onwards. A correct general idea of a glyph evolution sequence can be found by picking examples in the following order (not all of them need to be present):

  • 商朝 甲骨文
  • 西周 金文
  • 春秋 or 戰國 金文
  • One of the following:
    • 秦朝 秦系簡牘文字
    • 漢朝(?) 說文小篆
    • Note: Many native speakers tend to be relatively unacquainted with how character evolution works, and make the mistake of using 說文小篆 for demonstrating everything. I do not recommend looking at 說文小篆 too closely unless (1) 秦系簡牘文字 does not record this character or (2) you understand the history behind 說文小篆 and can explain roughly what's going on in those shapes. 說文小篆 does not work for many, many cases as a demonstration of glyph evolution.
  • 漢朝 隸書
  • 600 CE onwards 楷書

Warning: Simplified Chinese is not part of character development, and you should discard any resource which attempts to say that it is. The sources of inspiration behind most Simplified Chinese characters was very niche or obscure, not standardised, and most importantly have absolutely nothing to do with the Chinese language.

You cannot do anything with the action of "cutting character strokes" in speech - this action has nothing to do with the meaning and sound of words. Real character development is tightly integrated with the spoken Chinese languages across Chinese history.

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    oh là là, a strong statement :) btw, may i suggest the 漢語多功能字庫, which is maintained by the chinese university of hong kong: humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf Dec 18, 2019 at 8:45
  • @水巷孑蠻 漢語多功能字庫 is very good. It's the only online resource which conveniently documents actual usage of characters in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions, and I use it alot for that purpose. I think its presentation of character evolution sequence is not so good, that's why I generally point people towards 小學堂字形演變 (it draws out character tables very clearly).
    – dROOOze
    Dec 18, 2019 at 8:48
  • 漢語多功能字庫 would give a rough idea in a glance, i just think that 小學堂 is too complicate for novices, they’ll get lost. for experienced users, it’s a treasure :) Dec 18, 2019 at 8:54

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