Recently when I was researching the character 尺 (chǐ; Chinese measure approx. 'foot'), I've been trying my best to find any recent theories about this character that could be available.

Now, I know that 尺's glyph origin is unknown but the thing is, I want to know what most recent sources say about the depiction of this character. (or any proposed theories if thats the case!)

For reference, this is a chart from 小學堂 on the ancient forms for 尺: enter image description here

What I noticed right away is that I am also aware of the fact that 尺 in bronze inscription also share the same shape as another character, 乇 (tuō; to depend on, to entrust with) as referenced here with the chart below also from 小學堂 (in second box): enter image description here

I've also found this explanation when I checked out its entry on 說文新證 by Ji Xusheng, stating that scholars may interpret the given bronze character as either 尺 or 乇.

When I've noticed this, I've also checked the glyph origins for 乇 to find that it also has an unclear origin with many theories proposed about it. However when I listed all of it's proposed theories, I really couldn't choose the most reasonable one that makes sense.

For theories first off on 尺, it's pretty limited but here's the few I've found:

  • Kanji Networks: Depicts the person measuring the length of an object by extending their hand.
  • 說文解字; Wenlin Dictionaries: A sitting person (尸) with a mark on their body, supposedly indicating a point or mark on the body.
  • zi.tools: Depicts a hand measuring distance.

Also as for 乇, I've looked up some theories about this character as well to help me get an idea on what the given same shape, both characters are, depicted:

  • 說文解字;《說文新證》:Shuowen mentions that it is a pictograph of a plant (or leaf) sprouting up with shown roots, but Ji later showed that 垂穗 couldn't be used.
  • zi.tools: 力 with a given extra stroke.
  • 漢語多功能字庫: Xu Zhongshu mentions that it could depict a kind of tool for diving objects which could possibly depict a knife shape.
  • Dong Chinese: Explains that this character was traditionally explained as a blade of grass.

Since i'm having a little bit of a hard time finding the most reasonable theory for 尺 (and 乇), I think some help on explaining the origin of these characters would be much appreciated or better yet, maybe some assistance to this research of mine would be greatly appreciated! :)

Also, just to take note on the similarities between the two, their Old Chinese pronunciations (here in Zhengzhang OC) sound almost identical:

  • : /*tʰjaɡ/
  • : /*ʔr'aːɡ/

1 Answer 1


Not an ancient character professional but based on my understanding of ancient books.

尺: the glyph is a drawing of a fore arm, with a big dot or line pointing at the long part, indicating what it is referring to. The fore arm was often used as a tool to quickly measure length. That's why this character is used as "foot", just as British used foot to measure.

乇: the original meaning is, as dictionary said, 垂穗. However, that usage was then dropped. Instead, it was borrowed to mean "delegate". And later, more annotation was added, so the character used become 托.

The two are not related. But because their glyphs are similar, it was easy to mess up. People wasn't so accurate on writing/carving back then, as long as the meaning can be corrected told from context. A similar example is 月 vs 肉。

  • Makes about sense, if that's the case then what was 乇 supposed to depict? Was it a picture of a sprouting plant with it's root shown, based on its original meaning of course, or is the depiction unclear for now?
    – prismcool
    Oct 29, 2023 at 8:55
  • @prismcool Not sure. The description and usage is very limited. Either leaf (of herb) or ears (as in ears of rice).
    – Dudu
    Oct 29, 2023 at 13:32

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