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I've looked around and one place says it's from the skin of an animal, another one says it's an axe striking a beast and another one says it's a battle helmet with an animal skin.

So what's the story behind it and it's relation to the meaning today?

Thanks!

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Dislcaimer: The interpretations of the glyph forms and OC reconstructions are my personal opinion. Professional opinions state that this character is still open for interpretation.



enter image description here
甲1249
合集31219
西周

enter image description here
大克鼎
集成2836
春秋

enter image description here
公克敦
集成4641


enter image description here

 

I guess you can view「克」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*kʰˤək/, to achieve victory over/subdue/defeat an opponent in a military confrontation), as being a merger between semantic「由」(battle helmet, now written as「冑」) and reduced phonetic「革」(/*kˤrək/). The graphically reduced「革」looks like「⿱廿尸」or「⿱口尸」(picture of animal skin and horns).

Specifically, the bottom part of「由」is merged with the top part of the reduced「革」.

For reference:

  • 「由」



    enter image description here
    甲2123
    合集557
    戰國・楚
    簡帛
    enter image description here
    六德・19
    郭店楚簡


    enter image description here

     

  • 「皮」(skinning an animal)

    西周

    enter image description here
    九年衛鼎
    集成2831


    enter image description here
    秦律十八7
    睡虎地秦簡
    西漢

    enter image description here
    孫臏・220
    銀雀山漢簡


    enter image description here

     

  • 「革」(picture of flattened animal skin). Roughly speaking,「⿱廿尸」or「⿱口尸」is「革」folded in half along the animal's spine.



    enter image description here
    花東474
     
    西周

    enter image description here
    康鼎
    集成2786
    戰國・楚
    簡帛
    enter image description here
    遣策
    天星觀楚簡


    enter image description here
    秦律雜抄16
    睡虎地秦簡


    enter image description here

     


  • 1
    That's what I miss about the Outlier Dictionary sometimes. What you did was corroborating the ideas. The dictionary saying "it's a helmet with an animal skin" was not enough. You just drew every single part and now I'm totally convinced that it really is (even if it's wrong) a helmet fused with the skin. Thank you! – Enrico Brasil Sep 20 '19 at 14:08
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Outlier writes:

克 depicts a battle helmet (now written 古) and an animal skin (now written 儿). It was used in bronze inscriptions to mean “to defeat.”

Their reference is:

季旭昇,2004《說文新證》,台北:藝文印書館印行,2014年9月二版。p. 237

And they also give the ancient form of the character:

enter image description here

  • Yeah, I have that dictionary. But sometimes I think the explanation is too shallow. – Enrico Brasil Sep 13 '19 at 14:19

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