Graphical etymology
death; die
on: SHI
kun: shi-nu shi-ni-
strokes: 6
radical: 歹, (no. 78)
to die; impassable; uncrossable; inflexible; rigid; extremely; damned;
strokes: 6
radical: 歹, (no. 78)

Graphical etymology

In the period of Oracle bone script the Chinese word for “dying” was written with a combination of 井 (a well, here meaning hole in the ground, grave) and a person centered in it. A different version turned up as a combination of bone and person 人. This one evolved into the modern character, except that in regular script (standing) person was replaced by fallen person 匕.¹

Ochiai and Outlier take 死 as a semantic compound, which can be analyzed in any number of ways (a person who mourns the deceased, or the process whereby a person turns into a skeleton, etc.).² ³



  1. Ochiai, 2016, p. 13.
  2. It is impossible to know what the original association for juxtaposing “bone” and “person” was.
  3. Katō (1970, p. 466-467) suggests a phonetic role for the element on the right, that seems to be based on identifying 人 or 匕 with 司. However, comparing the OBI shapes, that hypothesis seems highly unlikely (compare OBI for 死 with OBI for 司).

Additional details for 死

Morohashi: 16365 6.0733
Item no. in Henshall: 286
SKIP code: 4-6-1
Four corner code: 1021.2; 1021.1
Korean reading: sa
Unihan English meanings (for Chinese):
die; dead; death
Unihan on: SHI
Unihan kun: SHINU
Unihan pinyin: sǐ