Questions about the origin and the history of Chinese characters or words.

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2
votes
3answers
195 views

磨洋工 Why 洋(?)工? Lazy Foreigners?

KEY defines 磨洋工 as slack off on the job, goof off My question is why? 洋 is often associated with foreign things, especially Euro-American (欧美). Are foreigners lazy in the eyes of Chinese?
0
votes
2answers
80 views

Does 宝 have its own history separate from 寶?

I was trying to figure out the characters for Sapporo, the Japanese beer, the other day and found: 七宝 was one of the translations for it. My initial reaction was to search 七寶 in my Japanese ...
9
votes
5answers
2k views

Why does the word 萌 mean “cute”?

A friend of mine said in a photo of me, my eyes looked very 萌(meng2). 你的眼睛很萌 My dictionary defines 萌 as; 萌 méng (动) sprout; bud; germinate But apparently in this context it means ...
2
votes
2answers
82 views

What is the origin of the slang term 6?

I'm speaking about for example: 他很6 To mean: He's very pro/skilled. I've seen this a lot, but I don't quite see what the origin of this comes from.
1
vote
3answers
201 views

Is “谐仿” an actual word in Chinese?

The English Wiktionary lists "谐仿" (xiéfǎng) as a translation for the English word "parody". But my other dictionaries don't list it and also my friends here in China say they don't know it, not even ...
3
votes
2answers
89 views

What is the origin and meaning of 焗烤

焗 was an uncommon character in Taiwan 20-30 years ago, limited mostly to Cantonese restaurants, and it was an unusual type of cooking. The MOE 國語辭典 gives this description of 焗: ...
21
votes
3answers
8k views

What is the exact meaning of 吃豆腐, and where does the expression come from?

I'm not talking about eating tofu, but the expression that means something more like taking advantage of someone. What exactly does 吃豆腐 mean, and where does this expression come from?
6
votes
3answers
351 views

Etymology of 对象

When I look up the etymology of 对象 on the internet, most of the answers (link1 link2) refer to an explanation from 《幽默与笑话》. The source makes me doubt if it's the real origin of the word: ...
3
votes
4answers
125 views

What is the etymology of “嗨”?

What is the etymology of "嗨"? Is it used because it sounds like the English word "Hi"? I tried looking it up, but Wiktionary doesn't have any etymology information in either the English or Chinese ...
10
votes
11answers
284 views

What etymology dictionaries are available?

What dictionaries (online, software-based or in paper form) explain the origins of a word and its evolution over time? E.g. how the character was once written, how the usage – and the meaning – ...
2
votes
1answer
80 views

來鴻去燕 interpreting idioms

So I am studying idioms and in many cases I come across one whose words I understand but whose meaning must apparently lie in a deeper story. The Wise Talk app gives: 來鴻去燕 (lai2 hong2 qu4 yan4) ...
4
votes
1answer
74 views

Etymological character reference [duplicate]

Is there an authoritative etymological reference for characters? It looks like all books I'm reading about Chinese characters have their own explanation. To me, all of them seem reliable, but I ...
5
votes
2answers
103 views

When did the words 麻醉 and 麻药 first appear?

I want to know how long 麻醉 and 麻药 have been compounded to mean anesthesia and anesthetic respectively. What is the approximate date of the origin of those two Chinese words? Are their origins ...
7
votes
2answers
303 views

Etymology of 至关(重要)

至关重要 strikes me as a four-character idiom instead of a Chengyu, and it didn't even make an entry on 现代汉语词典 or ZDic.net. However, that couldn't explain the fact that the specific character combination ...
11
votes
6answers
322 views

Why is 两 used for quantities of two rather than 二?

I understand that 两 is used instead of 二 when dealing with quantities of two. However, my question is - why? What are the historical reasons behind this? I looked at Wikitionary but it only had ...
6
votes
4answers
510 views

The origin of 鸡贼

I speak Mandarin Chinese, but it is the first time that I stumbled upon the word 鸡贼. According to 百度百科 (Baidu wiki), it means being stingy. The wiki page also says that it comes from the Beijing ...
3
votes
3answers
95 views

洗尘: why is a welcome banquet “washing dust”?

洗尘 refers to the traditional Chinese custom of holding a banquet to welcome visitors from afar. However, the literal translation is "to wash dust", which has nothing to do with eating, and I'm also ...
5
votes
1answer
103 views
2
votes
3answers
120 views

Why do some Chinese characters have multiple simplified variants?

According to Unihan database some Chinese characters have multiple simplified variants. For example the Chinese character 鍾 have 2 simplified variants: 钟 and 锺 How it could happen? What is the ...
12
votes
2answers
680 views

Are 乒 and 乓 used in classical chinese?

乒乓 is the modern word for ping pong, based around onomatopoeia (and similarity to 兵 for phonetic element) and, as some people claim, shape. I was wondering if this shape explanation is true, or little ...
4
votes
1answer
139 views

Origin of word / term - 怪獸?

While I understand the meaning of 怪獸 - Monster, it does not seems to be a word used in ancient time. Moreover, it seems to be related to Japanese culture (kaij). Is this term originate from Japan?
9
votes
4answers
522 views

How did 外国人 become 老外?

From Baidu: 老外,是中国人对国外人的一种俗称,类似与老张、老王、老李之类的称呼。称呼中加“老”显得亲热,比如“老乡”“老表”,称呼你老外,就像称呼老张老李那样,大大咧咧,随便亲切。过去中国人对外国人的称呼都是用在第三人称上,只有“老外”可以用于第二人称。 To translate, it says laowai is a colloquial term for ...
10
votes
1answer
147 views

What is the etymology of “商” in “商数”

"商数" is usually translated as "quotient" in both its mathematical and common usage forms (eg in "智商"/intelligence quotient, which is in fact an actual quotient.). What is the etymology of "商", and ...
9
votes
1answer
252 views

乐 Le and Yue: When did they diverge?

In the character 乐, it has two readings in Mandarin. In pinyin, yue4 and le4 (plus other readings I take are literary) In other dialects too, there seem to be 2 distinct forms. In cantonese, lok and ...
1
vote
3answers
117 views

How is the meaning of 不得已 formed?

I am under the impression that Chinese multi-character words form their meaning from that of the characters that form these words. (Let me know if I am mistaken!) I know that 不得已 means "to have to". ...
3
votes
1answer
83 views

Is the Chinese character “蒙” being associated with Mongolia and ignorance coincidence?

In the translingual section, Wiktionary mentions that the Chinese character 蒙 has a variety of meanings: to cover ignorant suffer fourth hexagram of the I Ching Mongolia - radical composition ...
1
vote
1answer
145 views

Where did the word “panda” come from?

If pandas are from China and in Chinese they are called 熊猫 ("bear cat"), where did the word "panda", as seen in most western languages, come from?
10
votes
1answer
230 views

What does “老” in “老虎” and “老鼠” mean

As I remember, 虎 and 鼠 are standalone nouns, meaning tiger and mouse, respectively. However, it seems that 老虎 and 老鼠 are more commonly used. Why is 老 used as a prefix for 虎 and 鼠? Why do we use 獅子 ...
2
votes
2answers
176 views

Why “保重” means “take care”?

As far as I have learnt, for each Chinese word with more than one character, its meaning is formed from that of each character which it comprises. However, I cannot understand how the meaning of 保重 is ...
8
votes
4answers
1k views

A Complex Chinese Character

I randomly saw this character on the blog a while ago and saved a image of it as shown below. Is this even a character? If so, what does it mean? When is it used? What was the origin of it? How do ...
10
votes
1answer
433 views

How come 東/东 has a second meaning 'owner/master' or 'host'?

Examples include 房东 or 财东 and 东道, respectively. What is the etymology behind this additional meaning?
3
votes
1answer
129 views

Origin of the slang “機車”

I know that "機車" is motorcycle and it is also used as a slang word, but I was unsure of its meaning. Thus, i checked this page, and I was confused by its ambiguity when translated to English, as ...
3
votes
2answers
176 views

丼: why is “well” also “bowl of food”?

丼 is an ancient variant of 井, which means "well" (as in the water kind). What's curious is that the former seems to also mean "bowl of food", at least in some dictionaries: 汉典: English bowl ...
4
votes
2answers
103 views

What is the original meaning of 匈 (besides “chest/breast/thorax”)?

The Wikipedia article on the 匈奴 gives a literal translation as 'fierce slaves'. Did 匈 mean 'fierce' in former times? What is the etymology of this character?
8
votes
2answers
214 views

What is the first attested use of 美國/美国 in the sense of 'America' in Chinese?

The beginnings of Sino-American relations date back to the late 18th century (e.g. the Old China Trade). When did the Chinese begin to refer to America (or the US) as 美國/美国? Were there alternative ...
0
votes
4answers
168 views

Logic behind the strokes of complex characters

I am learning Chinese now, and we've been introduced to Chinese characters as 'pictograms'. I understand the logic behind some characters, like 口 mouth to and 人 person. But, what about complex ...
4
votes
2answers
108 views

Etymology of 白族

What's the etymology of 白族? Does the name 白族 indicate that the people of that ethnicity literally look like they have white skin and/or clothes, or is it meant to be a metaphor, with the colour white ...
9
votes
2answers
410 views

Why is 月 used when speaking about anatomy?

One thing I've been curious about while learning Chinese is the use of 月 in many 汉字 representing anatomical features (for example, 脸, 腰, or 腿). What is the etymology of the use of 月 as a radical?
-2
votes
1answer
66 views

Does anyone known a source where find from which characters the modern one borrowed their loaned meanings?

Like I said in the title I would really like to know if anyone knows where to find the original characters that gave to the modern one their loaned meanings.
4
votes
3answers
350 views

Does 华裔 mean 'overseas Chinese'?

Is 华裔 a term that means an ethnically Chinese person born and raised abroad? What about 2nd generation? Does it apply to, say, American born Chinese, Chinese-Canadians, Chinese-Australians, ...
5
votes
3answers
183 views

或: how did “region” become “either”?

The character 或 is used today for the meanings "or", "either", "maybe", and "perhaps". Historically, it had the meaning of "region", and it is this meaning that characters like 國 and 域 derive from. ...
3
votes
3answers
214 views

Thoughts on the expression 腦洞大開?

腦洞大開 (Simplified: 脑洞大开) seems to be a phrase that's making its rounds in Sinophone online communities (a Google search may be illuminating), although its precise meaning as of yet still eludes me. It ...
4
votes
3answers
277 views

Why was the rice radical added to 气 to form 氣?

气 is an ancient character that has roots in an oracle bone pictogram, but according to this, the rice radical was added in the Tang dynasty to form 氣. What were the reasons for this? What does 气, ...
8
votes
2answers
517 views

The origins of “AA制”

Every since I learned the expression AA制*, I have been curious as to its origins. The morphology seems clear enough: AA + 制(定) = "to draw up (the bill) in an AA way". What is not clear is how AA ...
1
vote
1answer
76 views

殊: Why 歺(歹)+朱? How did it get to mean special (in a good way)?

How did 殊, as in: 特殊、殊技、殊荣、殊勋、殊遇、殊遇 come to have it's meaning of special? 歺(歹)+朱 paint out a rather, more, grim meaning if anything... 說文解字: 死也。从歺朱聲。漢令曰:“蠻夷長有罪,當殊之。”市朱切 How did 殊 get to mean ...
8
votes
2answers
304 views

Are the Cantonese word 係 and the Japanese word はい related?

The Cantonese word meaning "to be", written as 係 (Jyutping: hai6) sounds similar to the Japanese word はい ("hai" in various Romanizations). Both words are used to answer "yes" or "it is correct" to ...
5
votes
2answers
146 views

Character 瞓: where did the pronunciations come from?

The character 瞓 is a Cantonese character meaning "sleep". It is pronounced xùn in mandarin and fan3 in Cantonese. I was wondering how two so different pronunciations (I would expect xun to match syun ...
15
votes
5answers
1k views

Are there any online etymological dictionaries of Mandarin (not for characters but for spoken words)

tl;dr Are you aware of any dictionaries that explain word etymologies (not merely character etymologies)? Some links/references would be useful. This is actually a collection of related questions, ...
6
votes
1answer
152 views

What is the etymology of 氫?

Because this is a relatively recent word, I can't find any etymological information in the sources I'm familiar with. An old text that I found which uses this word is 《太平御覽·卷柏》: 氫鱍成性,終無自伸。 but I ...
23
votes
8answers
919 views

Number two in chinese: 二 vs 两

I always knew, from my studies of Japanese, that the number two is 二 (èr). I am not sure about the actual etymology, but looking at the character, it's understandable why it represents the number "2". ...