Take the 2-minute tour ×
Chinese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Chinese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Lost Etymology

ji-zdict.net

奇 ( jī | qí ) is a character that means strange but the etymology appears to have been lost. At least as far as I can tell after researching offline books, zhongwen.com, and zdict.net ( qí ). The character is composed of (dà) 大 and (kě) 可 but none of my references can explain why the meaning is "odd" (numerically) or "strange" (as in unusual).

This is just one of the characters that seem to have lost it's history. I know that I could just accept it's meaning and memorise it but I really appreciate the storied history behind each character as a method to discern meaning. Can someone share information on the etymology of the character 奇?

I am also interested in how I should deal with discrepancies between Chinese and Chinese-English dictionaries in general (see below for an example). Often, I note that the Chinese dictionary has more information (whose implications I am missing) than Chinese-English dictionaries (is there a better method than just using a source like www.zhongwen.com)?

Dictionary

While researching this character I noticed that the Chinese dictionaries have much richer information available than the Chinese-English sources.

e.g.

奇 jī
①形单的;不成双的(跟“偶”相对)。
奇偶 | 奇数
②名〈文〉数目的零头。
身长六尺有奇 | 奇零
另见 qí。
奇 qí
①形特殊;稀罕。
奇形怪状 | 奇观 | 奇特
②形出人意料的;不同寻常的。
奇遇 | 奇计
③动惊异。
不足为奇 | 惊奇
④副特别;非常。
奇冷 | 奇痒难忍
⑤名姓。
用法说明读 qí,基本义是特殊、稀罕;读 jī,与数目有关,指单数或不成双的。
另见 jī。

(Simplified Chinese Dictionary)

a lot of which is quite hard to decipher and contrasted with my Simplified Chinese English Dictionary below:

奇 jī
A.形容词
odd
→ 奇偶, 奇数
B.名词
书面语remainder
六十有奇
sixty odd
→ qí
奇 qí
A.形容词
①(罕见)unusual
奇男子/女子
remarkable man/woman
奇松怪石
unique pine trees and strangely-shaped rocks
→ 奇耻大辱, 奇迹, 奇妙
②(出人意料)unexpected
→ 奇兵, 奇袭, 奇遇, 出奇制胜
B.动词
surprise
→ 不足为奇, 惊奇
C.副词
extremely
奇丑
very ugly
奇痒
be terribly itchy
→ 奇缺
→ jī

Hints

Zhongwen.com hints that this may just be a person exhaling in wonder (to imply strange??) but is that a stretch?

ji-zhongwen.com

ChineseEtymology.com

Chinese Etymology seems to have very little information on this character (Source)

User Discussion

Zdict.net has a user forum (here) in which this character is discussed but I am afraid that I may have missed the gist of the conversation. So any help would be appreciated. The following reference image was shared in a post by user if that is any help. I am unsure of the original source and whether or not this is a composite.

user-discussion Zdict.net

share|improve this question
    
re "discrepancies between dictionaries" — I've often wondered about this too; you should post that as a separate question! –  alxndr Jun 5 at 1:44

2 Answers 2

The discussion on zdict basically explains that the Oracle bone script morphed (讹变) into its current form, but this transformation did not follow standard rules.

The original Oracle bone script shows a man riding a horse, which means "to ride" (i.e. what 骑 means today), but when small seal script was developed, the horse morphed into 可, which violates the usual practice of keeping the meanings the same. The character also acquired the meanings of "unusual" or "strange":

enter image description here

甲骨文“奇”字,人骑在马上,小篆“奇”字“马”讹变为“可”(“字源字形”栏目),本义跨坐、骑坐,“骑”本字,借为①特殊的、不常见的:奇怪、奇异、稀奇,②出人意料的、令人不测的:奇兵、奇计、出奇制胜,又借为:

◎ jī 单数、与“偶数”相对:奇数、奇偶、奇函数。

share|improve this answer
1  
Thanks for the explanation. I still don't see how "to ride" and "unusual" have any related meaning. I don't really see the horse or the man in the ancient symbol (when compared to other symbols I've seen before). –  Tommie C. Jun 3 at 14:25
    
@TommieC. thanks, I misread that part. The text says that the "unusual" meaning came later. –  congusbongus Jun 3 at 23:05
    
@TommieC. A lot of the characters changed their meanings as time passes. When it did, people would create another character with the same pronunciation to replace the original one. In this case, they created "騎" to mean "to ride" since a new meaning was added to "奇". –  LulalaBoss Aug 27 at 19:54
    
@TommieC. Look at the explanation here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_character_classification –  LulalaBoss Aug 27 at 19:56

According to the 漢語大字典, which has a graphic of the character in various scripts, in some earlier versions the top element of 奇 is written as 立 ‘to stand’. It further cites an early analysis from the "六書故” (liushu being the theory of 6 types of character composition):

“一足立也. 別作踦.” “奇,古踦字.”

Karlgren’s Analytic Dictionary gives 踦 as meaning “one-legged, halt, lame; single.” In other words, “standing on one foot” is semantically linked to “strange, odd number,” and the character 奇 originally had both meanings. It’s also easy to see the “man with one leg” in 奇, if you are looking for ways to memorize this character.

Taking a different tack, both Karlgren and some of the early dictionaries state that 可 is also a phonetic element, although the correspondence is inexact.

share|improve this answer
    
Very interesting analysis, I will give this some more thought as I continue to research further. –  Tommie C. Jul 7 at 14:50

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.