Zhongwen.com says that 八 is an "ideograph representing division", what is easy to see. So the old meaning of "separate" is also clear. But how did it came to represent the number 8?

All I've found so far is its association with 发 (发财), thus with good luck in general.

I want to know if there's any relation between "separate" and "8".

3 Answers 3


Generally speaking, we cannot create pictures or ideograms for every morpheme in a language; we'll quickly run into practicality issues if we try to do so. 「八」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*pˤret/) should be treated as just a rebus or phonetic loan for eight.

As an ideogram representing to separate, 「八」 either [represented a morpheme cognate with] or [was the original representation of] 「分」 (/*pə[n]/, to separate), with the component 「八」 serving simultaneously as a meaning and sound hint in 「分」.

If 「八」 was the original form of 「分」, then in terms of character development, 「八」 complexified into 「分」 via the addition of 「刀」 (knife, indicating the meaning to separate an object into two with a knife) after 「八」 was overused for the meaning eight, causing a need to disambiguate the two morphemes eight and separate.

In any case, it is quite likely that the original morpheme that 「八」 represented is now [also] written as 「別」 (/*pret/, to divide). The financial numeral for eight, 「捌」, still uses 「別」 as a phonetic component, showing the conservative nature of the sound of 「八」 for an ancient morpheme meaning to divide, differentiate, separate.

The good luck and fortune meaning (發財) is an unrelated wordplay, although it touches on the same kind of rebus principle. 「發」 (Middle Chinese: /pʉɐt̚/) sounds similar enough to 「八」 (/pˠɛt̚/) for this purpose, and in an alternate universe or a now-lost topolect, 「八」 might have been used as a phonetic loan for 「發」.


According to Outlier Dictionary (citing 《說文新證》), it's a sound loan, which is a very common way for characters to acquire new and unrelated meanings. The words for "separate" and "eight", at least at the time the loan happened, had an identical or very similar sound.


This word "扒”, It is related to "eight" and "separate" .

Exam:“扒开” means is :To separate two or more things with a hand or tool.

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