CUHK doesn't expound the semantic shift. Doesn't 寸 contradict 耐? Humans usually "endure" or "resist" what's hefty and strong, not objects that are "tiny" and merely "about 3 cm".



Wiktionary has the same etymology, but I quote Yellowbridge for it's trustworthier.

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  • 1
    Did you actually read CUHK's explanation? It says that it is a 古刑名, the name of a kind of sentence (punishment) in the past. If you look at 耏, it tells you exactly what that sentence is. Now the "endure" meaning should make sense, right?
    – Sweeper
    Aug 31, 2020 at 13:08
  • I think you should read CUHK's explanation of 寸. You're making a lot of assumptions on modern literal meanings, when that's not how character components work. As part of a character, if it is contributing meaning (not sound), 寸 means the same thing as 又.
    – dROOOze
    Sep 1, 2020 at 13:57
  • Quote:- "Humans usually "endure" or "resist" what's hefty and strong, not objects that are "tiny" and merely "about 3 cm" Well, a bullet is less than 3 cm. Let's see some humans "endure" that, without a bullet-resistant vest of course. Sep 1, 2020 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


「耐」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*nˤə-s/, minor punishment involving the shaving of a beard > to endure) is comprised from doubly semantic and phonetic 「而」 (/*nə/, picture of a beard, now written 「髵」) and semantic 「寸」 (picture of a hand > actions of the hand).

「寸」 rarely or never means inch as part of other characters - it is derived from 「又」 (picture of a hand) with an additional mark pointing to this wrist area. As a stand-alone character, this meaning originally referred to the area where the pulse is taken (Chinese medicine: 寸口). As part of other characters, it plays the same meaning role as 「又」 (if it is used for meaning, not sound). Observe, for example,


There is no complete explanation on this question. But we could follow some explanations in history and fill the missing links ourselves.

  1. The original character of 耐 is 耏.
  2. The original meaning is not related to 寸, and not "endure" either.
  3. 而 is a pictorial word about facial hairs.

說文, a dictionary written in 100 CE, has an entry about 耏, i.e. "耏,罪不至髡也。从而从彡。". A longer version is written in 說文解字注, "耏,罪不至髡也。从而从彡。耐,或从寸。諸法度字从寸。". This means 耐 is a variant form of 耏.

耏 is a penalty of removing one's hairs beside ears. It is lighter penalty than 髡, i.e. removing all hairs. The sentence "諸法度字从寸" indicates that later 耐 replaced 耏 for the meaning in laws. We might speculate that 寸 is a kind of measurement and further relates it to laws. 耐 finally wins the favourite form in the long history.

The meaning of "endure" is derivative. We could make a guess that one bearing this penalty must bear some kinds of humiliation. This might be the reason it derives the meanings of "bear, endure, resist and patient".

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