Schuessler has early meanings for 皆 (and 喈): “... ‘Be together with, agree , all’ [Shi]; ‘be or do in unison’ [Shi]”. Subsequently he puts forward as etymologically related 偕 and 諧: “偕 ...‘Together’ [Shi]” and “諧 ...‘Be concordant, harmonious’ [Shi].⁴
I take this to mean that the graph 諧 was created for an extended or special meaning of 皆/喈, which would explain why 言/speak was added as signific.
The original graph 皆 consists of two people accompanying or following each other, and an element that has not been identified with complete certainty, though many scholars seem to think that it is a corruption of 曰/say.⁵ This element was already at the seal characters stage standardized as 白 (strictly meaning “white” but really an empty element that does not contribute meaning).
The top element 比 shares its origin with 从 (modern Japanese 従). At the earliest stage (oracle bone inscriptions) it was used for “accompany” or “follow,”⁶ which seems to lead up nicely to Schuessler’s meanings for 皆, “be together with,” “in unison” etc. The subsequent “be concordant, harmonious” covered by 諧 is not far from that either. If 白 really was 曰/say then that would have added a verbal aspect to 皆, as does 言/speak to 諧 (speak/sing in unison/harmony).
In making a mnemonic one can go several directions. One is for example to take 皆/everybody as a known, indivisible element. Another way is for example analyzing 皆 as 比/compare and 白/white.
Mnemonic: Speech can be like white noise, which is comparatively harmonious.
1. The part of the graph that conveys meaning and is specifically added to classify or determine the meaning of the graph as a whole.
2. A phonetic or phonetic complement gives a hint for the sound of the word the graph stands for. An example in English would be nd in the writing 2nd.
3. Since Xǔ Shèn 許慎 the technical term for this is 亦聲 yìshēng (亦声 ekisei in Japanese). Graphs within this class usually come into being when, for clarification of the intended meaning, a signific is added to a graph that was already in use.
4. Schuessler 2007, pp. 310-311. He is not sure whether 階 points to the same word as 皆/喈. As for other graphs that use 皆 as phonetic, he treats as unrelated 稭/秸, doesn’t mention 堦 (however, that graph seems to point to the same word as 階 anyway), and doesn’t mention 楷, 鶛, 湝, 蝔, 鍇, 鍇, 揩, 瑎 or 龤. As for why 皆 and 喈 where originally used for the same word, but now seem to point to different words, he doesn’t explain that either.
[Shi] refers to the Shījīng 詩經 (ca. 1050-600 BCE).
An example from the Book of Rites for 諧, translation James Legge:
The superior man observes these rules of propriety, so that all in a wider circle are harmonious with him, and those in his narrower circle have no dissatisfactions with him. Men acknowledge and are affected by his goodness, and spirits enjoy his virtue.
5. SH: 1099.
6. Ochiai 2016, pp. 23-24.
Mnemonic: mourn the loss of two boxes of strange clothes⁶
1. Schuessler (p. 450) has identical readings for 桑 and 喪. Even in modern Mandarin 桑 is sāng and 喪 in at least its first reading also sāng. The second reading of 喪 (with the meaning “to lose”) is sàng, i.e. only a slight difference in pronunciation.
2. The developmental description in this box comes from Ochiai (2016, pp. 115-116)
3. Unicode has created space for the old form of 亡, which is 亾. However, most fonts will show it as a standardized post-Han period character shape, rectangular, unlike the earlier more rounded forms.
4. The primary meanings of 亡 in Schuessler (p. 507) are “to lose,disappear” and “to have none, there is not”. It’s not clear to me which meaning of 喪 this added graph was intended to reinforce.
5. This involved a process of abstraction in which a lot of graphs changed significantly: “...in the transition from the ancient script to the clerical script [...] most characters totally lost their pictorial character and became symbols comprised of dots and vertical leftward and rightward strokes” (Qiú, p. 45).
6. The mnemonic is from SH. I’m not sure I can come up with something better. Please let me know if you can—I feel rather exposed to the copyright police, copy-pasting it like this. 😱
Before 喪 was conclusively identified among oracle bone inscriptions (OBI), researchers had to do with bronze engravings that were not very clear. In addition to that, Xǔ Shèn 許慎 had written that according to him 喪 consisted of 哭 with 亾/亡 added as phonetic with also semantic value (亦声). Some scholars followed Xǔ Shèn, others proposed different interpretations. In the end it seems that having much clearer OBI available makes all those interpretations obsolete.
Mizukami identified one or more OBI for 喪 in 1995, while Gu included a few in his 2008 book, identifying its main element as “mulberry tree.”¹ Below a bunch of impressions of OBI by Ochiai.
SH writes: “Gu notes that in ancient times there was an association between the mulberry tree and the grieving process when someone died.” That seems to indicate that Gu analyzed the OBI for 喪 as a combination of semantic elements only. Ochiai suggests that 桑 “mulberry tree” acts as phonetic, which seems persuasive given that according to Schuessler (p. 450) the reconstructed readings for 喪 and 桑 are identical (as are the modern Mandarin readings).
However, Schuessler continues to write:
This word [sāng 喪] is prob[ably] not related to sàng 喪 ‘lose, destroy’ (under → wáng₁ 亡 ‘lose’), although these two words share the same graph due to similar sound and mental semantic association.(ibid.)
As it happens, exactly 亡 was added to 喪 in bronze inscriptions for clarification. 喪 has kept its two different readings and its two different meanings into modern times. I take this to mean that early on 喪 was used as a loan graph for ‘lose, destroy’ and that the two words kept sharing the same graph until today even.
With 桑 “mulberry tree” as phonetic, the symbol /𠙵 fulfills the role of signific. While for convenience sake it is possible to distinguish 𠙵 from 口 using modern fonts, in fact already at the OBI stage the two had the same shape in regular writing. While 口 concerns strictly matters of the mouth, the mouth cavity, and speech, 𠙵 can be a general receptacle, or a symbol for ritual. The latter is the case here.³
The modern form of 喪 can no longer be sensibly analyzed without knowing its development. Already at the time of Xǔ Shèn 許慎 (who lived around the first century CE) it was no longer known what the lines in the top of 喪 originally represented. In the seal character shape the added symbol of 亾/亡 was still recognizable, but became distorted with the development of the lìshū 隷書 (Japanese: reisho) style of writing. As a result of the necessary simplification (rendering the shapes using a limited range of brush strokes) and confused standardization (instead of standardizing 亾 to 亡, as in the top of 忘, the scribes chose to make 亾 look like the bottom of 衣) 喪 became an unintelligible sign.
Perhaps that some learned readers assumed (wrongly) that the graph 哭 (“weep... lament... bemoan the deceased”⁴) was a meaningful element of 喪 (as suggested by Xǔ Shèn). That could have made some sense to them. However, for most people 喪 ended up as a sign, certainly with no obvious relation to 桑, its mostly likely original phonetic. For the lay person mouth 口 should be a clearly recognizable element—but in this context not very useful as a semantic hint (and originally it was 𠙵). Also, a common variant of 喪 was ⁵ (where 人 replaces 口) and currently the PRC has simplified 喪 further as 丧.
1. Mentioned in SH (p. 486).
2. Impressions of OBI characters of 喪 by Ochiai (2016). My main reason for including them here is that I find Ochiai’s renderings amazingly beautiful. 😮 The Sinica database has 39 images of OBI for 喪 here.
3. Ochiai (2016, p. 105; pp 115-116). The researcher Shirakawa Shizuka 白川静 also assigns a ritualistic value to these receptacles, but interprets them in a more concrete way, while Ochiai thinks that they symbolize ritual in an abstract sense (Ochiai, 2014, p. 189).
4. Kroll, p. 243.
5. Yuen Ren Chao, Liansheng Yang, Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese. Harvard University Press for the Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1947, p. 42.