My research has indicated 乍 is related to soil and farming, but I have seen other sources claim it's a collar of a robe. The meaning in English is "suddenly" - I assume this to be a phonetic loan. I'm just so curious as to the original meaning! Any help would be vastly appreciated :)

  • I looked this up in my copy of "The Way of Chinese Characters". According to the author, 乍 indicates the stitching of a collar, and originally meant "to make" or "to do," with the meanings of "for the first time", "spread," and "abruptly" coming later. It's not an academic text but it seems to suggest that both etymologies have some academic support. Aug 30, 2022 at 15:00
  • Thank you so much!
    – Adam Todes
    Sep 7, 2022 at 5:29

3 Answers 3



怎 zěn (also zě) contains 乍 zhà and 心 “heart, mind,” which suggests that its original meaning is a modal particle. 乍 gives the sound.

So, yes, in 怎:

乍 zhà is a sound component.

You will find it plays as similar role in the following characters:


The only character that you will find where it has any etymological semantic root is 作:

作 zuò: (orig.) to cut down a tree with a blade (now written 柞); make; work; compose, write; act, perform

In the original sense of the word.



初來乍到 a newcomer

乍 zhà,zuò Original meaning 本义: work.
English senses first time, for the first time
(original- 𠆦乍作 zuò). Believed to be the stitching of cloths together.


I assume this to be a phonetic loan.

I don't think so.

乍 - 会意。小篆字形,从亡从一。本义:忽然.

又, 乍,暂也。—《广雅》

亦 暫也,初也,忽也,猝也,甫然也。【增韻】


  • 止也,一曰亡也。从亡从一。鉏駕切〖注〗徐鍇曰:“出亡得一則止,暫止也。

  • (乍)止亡䛐也。各本作止也一曰亡也六字,今正。乍無亡義,淺人離析所改耳。補䛐字者,如毋下云止䛐也,亦本有䛐而後人之。乍與毋同意。毋者,有人姦女而一止之,其言曰毋。者,有人逃亡而一止之,其言曰乍。皆咄咄逼人之語也。亡與止亡者皆必在倉猝,故引申爲倉猝之稱。廣雅曰:暫也。


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