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https://www.dong-chinese.com/wiki/%E5%A6%82

Depicts a woman (女) obeying spoken (口) orders. Based on the original meaning "obey". The meaning later shifted to "be similar" and "like". 女 also serves as a sound component.

Can someone flesh out how 如's "meaning later shifted to "be similar" and "like""?

Then how did 如 mean "if; supposing" and "like; as; as if"? See below.

https://hanziyuan.net/#%E5%A6%82

Original meaning 本义: Meaning original "like" now "if".

https://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=%E5%A6%82

詞類 英文意義
conj. if; supposing
prep. like; as; as if
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  • After thousand years of evolution, many Chinese words have changed forms and meanings. 「如」- 甲骨文此字從女從口,但是辭例不全,很難確定和後世的「如」是否同一個字。戰國文字從女從口,但是通讀為「諾」,和後世的「如」字可能也是不同字。
    – r13
    Sep 11 at 21:10

3 Answers 3

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From 《字源》:

形声字。从女,为“女”之分化字,口为分化符号,女亦声。西周金文以“女”为“如”。战国文字“如”字所从的“口”旁或在“女”下部,或在“女”旁的左部。本义是顺从。《说文》:“如,从随也。”《左传·宣公十二年》:“有律以如己也。”杜预注:“如,从也。”引申为似﹑像。《信阳楚墓》1·4:“相保如芥。”《诗·王风·采葛》:“一日不见,如三秋兮。”郭店简“如”或读为“诺”。郭店楚墓竹简《五行》45:“如(诺),莫敢不如(诺)。”(徐在国)

That is to say, at least from Spring and Autumn period onward, the evolution of 如 is very clear, backed up by many documentations. (The usages in the bone oracle is debatable)

The original glyph (本字)is 女. In bronze inscriptions it was still written as 女. The 口 is a later-added part to avoid confusion with 女's other meanings. The original meaning of 如 is 依从、按照、顺从 (follow, do according to). The meaning is naturally extended to 像 (have the appearances following, following the pattern, like).


UPDATE

How is this extension natural?

You can think of it in two ways. One is that if you follow someone, it's called 随、从, which is the original meaning. But if something follows the pattern of the another, then it looks like the other. In this case it's an analogy. Or if A follows B, then the result is that A looks like B. In this case, it's an extension from action to its result.

Where do the meanings of "if", "as if", "supposing" come from?

如 is a homograph that represents multiple words. With the meaning of if, 如 is another word. This is how 王力 treated it in 《同源字典》.

In 《古汉语常用词源流词典》(less authoritative than 王力), the author treats the glyph 如 (if) as a phonetic loan for the glyph 若 (if), and the glyph 若 also a phonetic loan for the actual word if. This suggests that scholars cannot find the 本字 for if. Ancient people use 若 and 如 as phonetic loans.


Depicts a woman (女) obeying spoken (口) orders.

This is an imagination from someone who does not really understand character composition.

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  • "The meaning is naturally extended to 像 (have the appearances following, following the pattern, like)." <1> Can you please elaborate? This is not natural to me? <2> I don't think you answered my other question "Then how did 如 mean "if; supposing" and "like; as; as if"? Where do the meanings of "if", "as if", "supposing" come from?
    – user
    Sep 12 at 9:38
  • @user I didn't read your question through, missed the second question. The answer is now updated.
    – lilysirius
    Sep 12 at 11:16
  • That is an interesting and insightful analysis of the character. Thank you. Sep 13 at 3:46
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You should be careful saying things like, "a woman obeying orders", it's never gonna happen, and I would get hit if I even thought that!

In 如, 女 is phonetic as I understand it.

By what mechanism does meaning shift? In my opinion, words have no meaning, quite the reverse: meaning takes words.

The English word sad is related via Old English to Modern German satt, meaning full, eaten enough. Unless the food was really bad, I don't think you would feel upset!

In this particular case, I don't think it is a big step from 表示举例, indicate an example, to 假若,假设:如果、如若、假如

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I prefer '口'is related to meaning, and '女' is related to pronunciation, like "汝" has the similar pronunciation with "如". But anyway, if just as what you said, we can also have a way to try to understand.

You can imagine, if some one obeys another people(leader, partner, parent etc.) for a long time, they will have some similar features.

On the other hand, Chinese is indeed a very logical language, but it also have some evolutions which are very hard to understand. My suggestion is, if it's hard for you to understand some meaning logically, you can just remember it and try to practice it more in sentences and articles, like what I am doing to learn English.

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  • Thanks. I don't think you answered my other question "Then how did 如 mean "if; supposing" and "like; as; as if"? Where do the meanings of "if", "as if", "supposing" come from?
    – user
    Sep 12 at 9:38

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