chineseetymology.org briefly states that this is "From woman 女 and weapon 戌. Meaning to dominate."

Arch Chinese states that this is an ideograph composed of 女(Woman) and 威(kill) - though I think the latter may be a typo, as the composition also refers to 戌, though gives the meaning of that as '11th earthly branch, 7-9 p.m..

How does the ideograph work? Is the woman using the weapon, or being dominated by it? Should I make sure I am home between 7-9 p.m. to avoid my wife subjecting me to the weapon?

  • 3
    This question should be asked in Chinese Language Stack exchange
    – user237
    May 30, 2017 at 23:40
  • @SuperCoolHandsomeGelBoy I was wondering if it might be better asked there, but I wasn't sure it was out of place here-after all, use of Hanja is an aspect of the Korean language too. Interested in everyone's views on this - meta question welcome! May 30, 2017 at 23:54
  • This website is a useful resource for this kind of information: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%A8%81
    – B. Alvn
    Jun 15, 2017 at 12:52
  • I changed my mind about asking/answering this kind of question purely Chinese SE, there's plenty to write about in terms of Korean phonology and Korean Eumhun which wouldn't be relevant at all on Chinese SE but are of course of interest to a Korean learner.
    – dROOOze
    Apr 18, 2019 at 7:48

4 Answers 4


Indeed, 威 comes from 戌 and 女

女 means women, and in ancient China, it especially points to those who are married.

戌 can mean the period of 7pm to 9pm, which is the time system used in the past.

However for the word 威,戌 is referring to a tool used in execution to a criminal.

In Han Dynasty, when women did anything seriously violating her responsibility as a wife, she will face execution by 戌. So 戌 before 女 is considered a warning to them, and is later meant "power".


Just a note about the specific time: the Earthly Branches are as opaque to modern Chinese readers as they are to hanja-literate Koreans, i.e. extremely so. The link between what was originally "axe" 戌 to the 11th of 12 points (hence the 7-9pm slot of the day, the 11th 2-hour period counting from midnight to midnight) is not common knowledge, and is under some debate amongst historical linguists.

One view gaining traction comes from the association of the Earthly Branches with the 12 animals of the East Asian zodiac. This association is first clearly attested in the 日书 of the Qin dynasty. The evidence for some of these associations points to an Austroasiatic (also known as Mon-Khmer) origin for the association. The strongest associations are:

  • 丑 Standard Mandarin Pinyin chǒu, Middle Chinese (Pulleyblank) trhjuwX, Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart) * [n̥]ruʔ. The word buffalo (as opposed to ox, strictly speaking): Modern Vietnamese trâu, Proto-Vietic * c-luː , Muong tlu.
  • 卯 Standard Mandarin Pinyin mǎo, Middle Chinese (Pulleyblank) mæwX, Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart) * mˤruʔ. The word cat (which is traditionally used in the Vietnamese zodiac as opposed to rabbit in the Chinese and Korean zodiacs): Modern Vietnamese mèo, Proto-Vietic * mɛːw,

However, the link between 戌 and dog via a phonetic Old Chinese (* s.mi[t]) to Proto-Vietic (* ʔa-cɔːʔ) connection doesn't remotely look like it will work out.

That aside, it seems clear that 威 is an ideogrammic compound of 戌 and 女. Its positive connotations seem to go back to at least as far as the Classic of Poetry of the early Zhou dynasty.

Interestingly, the Shuowen Jiezi of the Han dynasty basically defines 威 as the same as 姑, the latter of which it specifically defines as "夫母也", that is to say, one's husband's mother (the use of which is obsolete in modern standard Chinese; 姑姑 has shifted to paternal aunts, the use of which is also current in Korean 고모). Knowing how 시어머니 treat 며느리 may give you a clue why this character came to mean what it does. Or it may just be a folk etymology.


I've learned thousands of Chinese characters for my entire life, but I have to admit that I am not an expert. One thing for sure is those characters were made to mean something that is not very easy to understand. Sometimes, it is not reasonable from a beginner's point of view. I think they were made to mean something because they needed a character to mean something. For example, 獸 means 'an animal'. But the first (left) part means 'to hunt' and the second (right) part (radical) means 'a dog'. Why does 'hunting a dog' mean 'an animal'? I don't know. That's the way it is (for sure).

Clearly, the Chinese character you are asking about is not 'a woman' + 'a specific time'. It is 'a woman' + 'an ax' (or ax type of a weapon which looks long and more terrifying than a typical ax). There are a few characters that mean 'an ax'. You will read some of them here. One is pronounced as [월], the other is pronounced as [술] which sounds exactly same as the specific time that you mentioned. There is another one which is pronounced as [무]. If you wield an ax in front of a woman, she will be terrified or she will notice the power that you have. But what if you wield it before a man? Wouldn't he be terrified? The radical 女 is very useful because the opposite word 男 has more strokes and the radical which means a human being is too simple, 人, only two strokes.

I guess those who invented the word had thought about a few possibilities, but decided that 女 is the best choice among a few characters that fits the radical 戌 [술].

As a student of Chinese characters, I would try to learn it by heart by imagining that you will terrorize a woman if you wield an ax before her wondering how come an ax has the same character and pronunciation as the specific time.


「威」(위엄(威嚴)) depicts the threat of a battle-axe「戌」(도끼), indicating punishment, on a kneeling woman「女」(여자(女子)). The original meaning of「威」is fear/fearful「畏」(두려워할).

Please note the etymological connection between「威」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*ʔuj/ > Eumdok: ) and「畏」(OC: /*ʔuj-s/ > Eumdok: ).

The meaning fear was later extended to mean imposing, powerful > majestic (威嚴).

「戌」() originally depicted a type of battle-axe; its current meaning of the 11th earthly branch (열한째 지지(地支)) is a phonetic loan (假借 (가차)). For reference, the glyph evolution sequences of


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