In classical philology, shengxun or yinxun is the practice of explaining a by using a homophone or near-homophone. The practice is ancient, and can be seen in Pre- texts. Xu Shen, author of the monumental ''Shuowen Jiezi'', employed ''shengxun''. For example, when Xu explained the word "ghost", he wrote:
歸 and 鬼 are homophones.
The ancient Chinese dictionary ''Shiming'' is noted for using ''shengxun'' for most of its definitions.
''Shengxun'' can be highly fanciful, and often results in folk etymology. However, the practice points to the idea of "cognate characters" or what Bernhard Karlgren called "word families".