Graphical etymology
book; present; main; origin; true; real; counter for long cylindrical things
on: HON
kun: moto
names: mato gou
strokes: 5
radical: (no. 75) (Nelson uses , no. 2)
root; stem; origin; source; this; the current; original; inherent; originally; classifier for books, periodicals, files etc;
pinyin: běn
strokes: 5
radical: (no. 75) (Nelson uses , no. 2)

Graphical etymology

本 is a deictic graph. It shows “tree” with a mark added to its roots, to convey the literal word “root” (of a tree or a plant). Extended meanings are “origin, fundament”. It is not clear how it came to refer to books.¹


One theory relates that until the ninth century books were in cylindrical “stem-like” rolls, and that perhaps that could account for the relation of the word “root” 本 to books.²


  1. Qiú, 2000, p. 183; Schuessler, p. 160.
  2. Seeley at al., p. 64.

Additional details for 本

Morohashi: 14421 6.0026
Item no. in Henshall: 70
SKIP code: 4-5-3
Four corner code: 5023.0
Korean reading: bon
Kanjidic cross references: variant kanji (JIS): 05471
Unihan English meanings (for Chinese):
root, origin, source; basis
Unihan on: HON
Unihan kun: MOTO
Unihan pinyin: běn
Unihan kZVariant: