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The direct link to www.shuowenjiezi.com fails the first time, because the site redirects you to the start page, where you have to click “enter the site”. After that, the direct link to the site will work (until you delete their cookies from your browser).


The entries on graphical etymology use terms of which the meaning can be very specific. I will try to make a more or less complete list with definitions and explanations on the page Terminology. Often I link to that page from the text.


References to (mostly) modern authors can be looked up in the page References. (That page is also listed in the top-right menu.) Some of the references to ancient writings can be found on the page Classical sources (usually I link to it from the text). When the source for an image is not stated explicitly, it can most likely be found in the filename of the image.

Transcription and transliteration

For Chinese I simply use pinyin (see the Wikipedia article on pinyin). For Japanese however, I use a mixture of so called “Hepburn romanization” (Wikpedia) and wāpuro rōmaji (also known as kana-spelling, see Wikipedia).

To spell regular words I use Hepburn for the consonants and short vowels. Hepburn is quite common and mostly intuitive for readers used to Latin spelling (an exception is j, which should be read as in English jeep not as in Dutch or German ja).

As for the long vowels, kana-spelling ei for the long vowel /ee/ is strangely already part of regular Hepburn. However, for long /oo/ I use also kana-spelling: mostly ou (sometimes it’s oo) and long /uu/ is uu.

The kana-spelling allows for easy convertibility and it avoids confusion with the first tone in pinyin (which uses a macron ¯, just like regular Hepburn). I like it that it is exactly the absence of the macron that makes comparing the readings of Japanese and Chinese more straightforward. And anyone with any knowledge of Japanese will be familiar with kana-spelling. Note that readers who are not familiar with Japanese will be mostly confused about the macron and ei anyway. (See Wikipedia for details on Japanese phonology).

Finally, the spelling of names may be exempt from all of this, so stay alert!


Both the database and the files for each graph are being updated frequently. However, the automatically generated files are often cached in browsers; in order to see changes, you might need to force your browser to refresh the page (reloading once or twice might work). This goes for the information files (like this one) as well.