Pictogram (象形) – cowry.
Cowries were used as money in ancient China (Shell money). Guo (1945) proposes that cowries used by the ancient Chinese dynasties in Central China must have come from the southeastern shores of China and areas further south, as the species of sea snail used as decoration and currency—Monetaria moneta (money cowry)—is not native to the eastern seashores of China. He further proposes that in addition to the cowry itself, the word for cowry, 貝, is also an ancient loanword from languages of the south (which call it “bia”).
Compare Malay bia (“cowry”), Thai เบี้ย (bîia, “cowry shell; money”), Proto-Mon-Khmer *ɓa(a)j (“bean, small weight or coin”) > Khasi sbâi, 'bâi (“money, cowry, shell”), Khmer ពៃ (pey, “obsolete small coin”).
Alternatively, Starostin, Matisoff (2003) and Schuessler (2007) relate 貝 to Proto-Sino-Tibetan *bwap (“snail”), via 貝 (OC *paːds) < *pāps. If so it would be cognate with Jingpho pawp, lapawp (“snail”).
- shellfish; cowrie
- † money; currency
- A surname.