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信子apparently can mean (snake's)"tongue" but only if 吐 also occurs near it (s. all examples below) http://news.sina.com.cn/s/p/2014-08-03/051130621113.shtml headline:半夜如厕 小臂粗大蛇 蜷缩地上吐信子 within text:(1)一条两米长的蛇盘在空调上,嘴里“嘶嘶”吐着红信子…… (2)不停游动,还吐着红信子 (3)发现一条两米左右的大蛇正对着自己吐信子。 iciba has 网络 nobuko (日本女孩的名字);Hyacinth and 1 example 它正在用它的巨大的、恐怖的眼睛凶猛地环望四周,鲜红的信子一吞一吐。1. It looked around savagely with its gigantic, mesmerizing eyes bright red tongue hung out, twitching. Searching internet for 信子 results in first 100 results all about 风信子 (hyacinth)

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hmmmm.....so what's your question? –  nicobili Aug 3 at 6:48

3 Answers 3

I believe 信子 is a colloquial and maybe dialectal word. It appeared in an online news headline doesn't guarantee its formality, since language usage for online news in China is far less regulated than TV news or newspaper. As a matter of fact, I've seen many regional words and network meme being used on Sina news in the past.

For the etymology, I couldn't find any authoritative reference, but I think the word was deviated from 芯子 which has a similar pronunciation, literally means 'the inside', and is usually used to refer to the wick - the mandrel of any cylinder-shaped object. Looking at the examples from ZDic, 信子 is definitely not exclusively used for snake tongues, but is almost interchangeable with 芯子:

信子 xìn zǐ 1.指装在器物中心的芯子。如蜡烛的捻子、爆竹的引线等。《红楼梦》第四五回:“惟有这斗笠有趣;上头这顶儿是活的,冬天下雪,戴上帽子,就把竹信子抽了去,拿下顶子来,只剩了这个圈子。” 管桦 《山谷中》:“那里倒是没有崩过。就是不好打眼儿放信子。”

Translation: 信子 means the mandrel installed to the center of an object, such as the wick of a candle or the lead wire for a fire-cracker. [Sentence examples snipped]

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not sure why this was downvoted... –  user3306356 Aug 3 at 11:21

Maybe you are looking for an explanation why "信子" can mean tongue of a snake in some special context?

If so, actually, "信子" of a snake has nothing to do with “风信子”(hyacinth). It is just a conventional phrase when talking about tongue of snake, and this convention is rarely used now.

Why tongue of a snake is called "信子"? A possible explanation is that tongue is an important thing for snake to detect surrounding circumstance the as most snakes are weak-sighted, and "信" represents "information" in Chinese, "子" is "an item used to do something", like "锤子"(hammer), "铲子"(spade). Therefore "信子" might mean "a tool for detecting information" for snakes.

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only found it in Russian dictionary: translate.academic.ru/%E4%BF%A1%E5%AD%90/zh/xx 1信子 xìnzi 1) жало змеи (forked tongue of a snake) 吐信子 высунуть жало(stick out (same)). Are there any online English dictionaries showing this meaning? If it is in some daily's headline it can't be that uncommon, one might think. –  S.Rhee Aug 3 at 9:39
    
heh...I try to find that english dictionary but I failed... Actually it appears rarely even in chinese dictionaries online. Perhaps you can look it up in <<The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary>> published by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences(ISBN:9787560031958), which has both english and chinese version explanations and i think is a good resource to learn chinese... sorry for that. –  user5913 Aug 3 at 10:01
    
naturally Chinese-Chinese might be good enough, but the meaning in question is not even in 现代汉语词典 (1772 p.),however internet search for "蛇 信子" leads to a lot of results, first of which is 为什么,蛇的舌头要叫信子?蛇信子? - 已解决- 搜狗问问. Answers(opinions?) provided by other 网民 seem to mostly agree with answer 1 –  S.Rhee Aug 3 at 13:35
    
in fact the answer which seems to have received most recommendations agrees with answer 2 zhidao.baidu.com/question/59746989.html?qbl=relate_question_3 信子在古代一般是指指装在器物中心的芯子,如蜡烛的捻子、爆竹的引线等;也指以砒霜制作的杀鼠药,亦泛称毒杀动物或人的药品... –  S.Rhee Aug 3 at 14:05

吐信子

KEY

stick out the tongue (of a snake)

信子

KEY

1 (candle) wick, (firecracker) fuse

2 (snake's) tongue

3 tongue (as food item)

4 {metal} core

And similarly pronounced 芯子

ABC

1 fuse; wick

2 forked tongue of a snake

3 core

搜狗 explains it like this:

蛇的舌头分叉,一般吐出来捕捉外面的信息,如食物,周边环境情况,蛇的视力不好,主要靠舌头来获得信息,所以人们把蛇的舌头称为“蛇信子”。

由来

主要靠舌头来获得信息,所以人们把蛇的舌头称为“蛇信子”。用它们的舌头采集周围环境中的气味颗粒。首先它们快速将舌头伸到空气中,然后在将它收进嘴中。在嘴中,它们将舌头的两个小叉子插入位于口腔壁上的洞穴中,这些洞穴就是雅各布森氏器官,这些器官直接通向大脑。尽管蛇的鼻孔也能嗅到气味,舌头和雅各布森氏器官增强了蛇感知气味的功能 。

Which basically says that snakes obtain information about the outside world through their tongues so it's their "little messenger," poetic license and all.

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Personally I don't believe the "messenger" theory. It's far-fetched for a name. The "芯子" theory sounds more reliable. –  Stan Aug 3 at 15:56
    
What is 'KEY' and 'ABC'? –  NS.X. Aug 4 at 2:46
    
@NS.X. ABC = ABC English-Chinese Dictionary - US KEY = KEY Chinese-English Dictionary - US –  user3306356 Aug 4 at 4:21
    
@user3306356 Got it. Thanks. –  NS.X. Aug 4 at 6:32

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