The original meaning of 滅 is often said to be to extinguish a fire.


And if the original form of 滅 is 烕, then the reason 水 was added to 烕 seems fairly straightforward. To me, the confusion arises from the role of the component that resembles 戌. The oracle bone form of 烕 looks like 火 + 戉, rather than 火 + 戌, so my guess is that sources that say 戉 was later corrupted into 戌 are correct. I'm hoping that someone with a more conclusive answer can explain, but from the research I've done so far, some explanations I've seen for 戉's role in 烕 are:

  1. 戉 is phonetic. My knowledge of phonetics is rather limited, but looking at the OC reconstructions of 戉 and 烕, they don't appear similar enough to convince me 戉 is phonetic (hopefully someone can provide more details on this). 烕 also has the pronunciation that corresponds to xue in Mandarin, but I don't know if that is related or not.
  2. 戉 is semantic (not mutually exclusive with 1.). This is usually explained as using some kind of tool to extinguish a fire.
  3. 戉 was phoneticized into 戌. At a glance, the OC reconstruction of 戌 looks closer to 烕, but again, my knowledge of phonetics is too limited to make any meaningful conclusions.
  4. 戉 was replaced with an similar or equivalent semantic component 戌 (not mutually exclusive with 2. or 3.).
  • May I ask where you got an oracle bone form of 烕? I can't seem to find one.
    – dROOOze
    May 26, 2020 at 12:18
  • I see two forms of 烕 on 中華語文知識庫 (後下18.9(合集1937) and 後下16.4(合集17103), the second of which has an additional 又). Hanziyuan also has a sample (despite the inaccurate explanations, the image samples from that site seem pretty high quality). I wasn't able to find a sample on 小學堂. May 26, 2020 at 15:05
  • 1
    I cannot see that character in 合集1937. As for 合集17103, 小學堂's sources categorise it as 炈.
    – dROOOze
    May 26, 2020 at 23:34
  • 1
    Thanks for clarifying, I should've known the right-hand side of 合集17103 is 殳. May 27, 2020 at 2:38

1 Answer 1


I have reservations about the categorisation of

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as 「烕」 as given by 中華語文知識庫 - that is a reading given directly by 《甲骨文合集》. The right hand side component of the character is 「殳」 , as given by other oracle bone characters with those components:

enter image description here

The evidence for reading 「炈」 as 「烕」 for 合集17103 is very minimal; it is not really possible to gain any idea of meaning from this fragment.

enter image description here

The previous character is probably 鼎 (貞).

Pending on more evidence, I would suggest treating 「烕」 (/*m̥et/) rather than 「炈」 as the original form, and 「戌」 (/*s.mi[t]/) as just a phonetic component. Reading 「戌」 as semantic forces an interpretation like destruction by military, definitely excluding an original meaning like extinguishing a fire, and you'll have to go through the original texts on bronzes to see if that interpretation matches the text.

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