According to my sources 饣 means "food" or "eat". Since when do people eat jewelry?

4 Answers 4


TL;DR : is the phonetic, not the signific.

, which is simplified from , is the radical of / only in the sense that it is listed that way in a Chinese dictionary. It is not the meaning-bearing part of the character. Here are two possible analyses. In both cases, is contributing to the pronunciation, not the meaning:

  1. 飾 = 食 (phonetic: shi2) + 布 (signific: cloth)

  2. 飾 = 飤 (phonetic: si4) + 巾 (signific: cloth)

  3. 飾 = 食 (phonetic: shi2) + [人 + 巾] (signific: person + cloth)

  1. The first analysis might seem the most plausible, given the character's present appearance, but if you look at the seal script forms for 飾 and for 布, you'll see that the right side of doesn't really look much like .

  2. The second analysis has the appeal that it's a simple phonetic + signific, but @Claw points out that both and are checked-syllables in Cantonese, while is not. This indicates that is a much better phonetic match to .

  3. As alluded to in 1, the right side (in seal script) doesn't look like , it looks like underneath a -like fragment. As pointed out by another answerer, cloth+person is a good signific for "decorate".

Edit: Added analysis #3, which Claw suggests is the most plausible, incorporating his arguments.

  • I never thought about it this way. Have always accepted that it had the 'food' radical just because. Interesting insight. Mar 13, 2013 at 21:11
  • 1
    While you suggest the latter might be more plausible, a phonetic analysis suggests that the phonetic is more likely to be 食 rather than 飤. It's hard to tell because Mandarin no longer has 入聲 tones, but both 食 and 飾 were originally 入聲 words that ended in -k (cf. sik6 and sik1, respectively in Modern Cantonese), and 飤 was a 去聲 word that did not (cf. zi6 in Cantonese). This does not necessarily mean that 布 is the signific though; as the answer by user2584 seems to indicate, both 人 and 巾 contribute to the signific in a pictographic manner.
    – Claw
    Aug 13, 2013 at 7:57
  • Any reference to back your opinion?
    – George
    Sep 8, 2013 at 13:03
  • Actually, it's not uncommon for a (modern) 去聲 to use a phonetic element from (modern) 入聲 and vice versa. For example (using Cantonese): 試 (si3) 式 (sik1), 憶 (jik1) 意 (ji3). Sometimes the phonetic element is no longer used separately but you can still see 去聲 vs 入聲 with the same phonetic element: 富副 (fu3) 幅福輻 (fuk1). In such cases, those ending up with 去聲 are usually reconstructed with additional *-s in Old Chinese, for example, Baxter–Sagart: 富 /*pək-s/
    – qrsngky
    May 31, 2023 at 2:23

According to zdic.net, 饰 is formed of 巾, 人, and 食 (饣). 食 (饣) is the sound component, while the other portion suggests the meaning.

The dictionary explains the character's components this way: 形声。从巾,从人,食声。人佩巾有装饰作用。 So, it's a 'pictophonetic' character which signifies a person wearing or adorned with a cloth, thus having the effect of decoration.

If you're interested in this kind of composition theory, you can look up more on the various ways characters were composed. 形声 being one of the ways.

Zdic.net is great for this kind of thing. When you look up a character or word you can click 详细解释 for more in-depth info. Yellowbridge is also decent for this kind of question.


Let me connect the dots for @EdenHarder (but comment box is too narrow...)



夫飾者 形聲字也 據典[1]之二五七二頁 然竊以為會意也 參 殷商有祭祀者 食諸神袛以祭牲 飾牛牲以布匹 苟無食 何以有飾 飾者 从巾 从人 食聲 讀若式 一曰襐飾 賞隻切 據典[2] 恭候有疑


Signific or phonetic, imagine in an ancestor worship or toward a deity in ancient times (e.g. Shang), people present with food, covered with cloth; or people wearing cloth present it, such that 飾 follows巾 and 人, pronounced as 食, similar to the pronunciation of 式, also known as 襐飾 (xiang4 shi4); its consonant same as 賞, vowel same as 隻.

Welcome further enquiry with all respect.

引典 Reference

[1] 漢韓大字典,民衆書林,2013年1月10日 第3版 第6刷 發行,ISBN 978-89-387-0148-0. Chinese-Korean Dictionary, Minjungseorim Co., January 10 2013 3rd edition 6th print.

[2] 說文解字 大徐本,許慎


Ministry of Education, Taiwan, tells us that 飾乃刷洗清潔之意 通「拭」如 周禮.地官.封人:「凡祭祀 飾其牛牲」參見此處

  • Dear downvoter, would you please put your comment so that we can improve our service?
    – George
    Sep 8, 2013 at 13:19

饰 was first and ritual related to worship with cattle and other food in ancient China. For example,《周礼·地官·封人》:“凡祭祀,饰其牛牲。” So, 饰 has the 饣radical.

  • Can you please expand this answer to explain clearly how the quoted text answers the question.
    – going
    Aug 13, 2013 at 6:14
  • This answer is too brief. But it does provide a clear, logical explanation as to why the radical is used. 《周礼·地官·封人》is referenced in 康熙字典
    – 杨以轩
    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:33

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