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二百五 is Chinese slang for an idiot, but how did it come about? What's the earliest recorded usage of this term in this meaning?

There are many theories for its origin, this page lists as many as 6 different theories but most seem rather apocryphal to me.

Also here, for those behind a firewall: http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/1493446.html

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Did you actually mean 二百五 or 二百五十? –  hippietrail Nov 19 '13 at 17:20
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It's better to cite sources that haven't been blocked by GFW. –  Stan Nov 22 '13 at 3:40

2 Answers 2

The 250 page of Chinese wikipedia state this as : (http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh/250)

250是辱骂或调侃他人的俚语,意为“笨蛋”或“傻子”,该措辞来源于“半吊子”一词。古时五百两为一封,二百五十两为半封,谐音“半疯”,渐渐演化而来。

Literally translated as:

250 is an offending or teasing slang, interpreted as "idiot", "dumb". It originated (probably) in a way similar to that of another Chinese phrase 半吊子 (half a diaozi) (used to say someone is not good at something but assumes he or she is and brag about the fact). In ancient times 500 liang (a mass unit) is a feng (another unit), and feng sounds the same as 瘋 loony, crazy, out of one's mind, mad, lunatic. And therefore 250 stands for half a feng (500) (semi-crazy?)

Of course this is only another explanation but I'm afraid it's hard to trace the exact source.

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Wikipedia is a decent source, but that paragraph doesn't seem to have any references. This explanation seems plausible; can you improve your answer by finding more sources? :-) –  Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 21 '13 at 17:52
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It seems OP has noticed this source, he just want a verification :) –  Stan Nov 22 '13 at 13:48

The story is From the warring states period. There is a lobbyist, named shu qin, at that time has very high power and prestige, but also have a lot of enemies. Finally he is killed in qi. King is angry, want to revenge for shu, but cannot find the murderer, so he has a ruse, he cut off shu’s head from the body, hung on the gate, with a statement said: "shu is the hidden traitor, who killed him will receiving the reward, one thousand gold. When the notice posted, there are four people claiming to that they killed shu qin. King said: "it is not allowed to pretend to be!" Four people are convinced they did. King said: "one thousand gold, how much four people share?" Four answered: "two hundred and fifty." King says with angry: " put the four 'two hundred and fifty' out beheaded!" The word "two hundred and fifty" origin, just like that.

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Source? This kind of word attracts folk etymologies. Finding the real etymology requires justifying it with textual references from early references. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 21 '13 at 7:01

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