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

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20
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7answers
709 views

Why is 有 (yǒu) the only verb that requires 没 while other verbs can use 不?

To negate something, we use 不 (bù) before the verb, such as in this short dialogue: A: 你是老师吗? = Are you a teacher? B: 不是。 = I'm not. However, the verb 有 (yǒu) is the only one that requires 没 ...
18
votes
11answers
837 views

Etymology of the Chinese number characters (一二三四五六七八九十百千)

Main Question: What is the etymology of the Chinese number characters (一二三四五六七八九十百千)? Related question: Why isn't 四 four lines? (the origin of 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九) I decide to write a ...
14
votes
4answers
870 views

Why isn't 四 four lines? (the origin of 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九)

A common experience of beginner hanzi students is their raised hopes and expectations when they learn 一 二 三 - "what a wonderfully elegant language!" - which are promptly crushed when they encounter 四. ...
13
votes
5answers
381 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". ...
12
votes
4answers
516 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, ...
11
votes
2answers
3k 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?
11
votes
4answers
425 views

足: why is “foot” also “enough”?

足 is an ancient character meaning "foot". However, it also means "enough" or "sufficient", and this second definition is also very old. Consider this excerpt: 兵甲已足。——诸葛亮《出师表》 This is from ...
10
votes
4answers
391 views

Etymology of 他妈的

I've seen mention of this word a few time. In English it is clear how certain words became swear words; f..., sh.. and damn all have very strong meanings in their literal sense; the former two being ...
9
votes
6answers
435 views

When is it appropriate to address a lady as 先生?

Chairman Mao addressed Soong Ching-ling as 宋庆龄先生. Yang Jiang was also addressed as 杨绛先生 by the public. My dad used to tell me to address some of his female colleagues as 先生 too. I wonder why a lady ...
9
votes
2answers
239 views

Why is “steak” 肉排?

肉排 is Chinese for steak (e.g. 牛排 or 猪排 for beef steak and pork steak), but where did the 排 come from? As a Western cuisine dish, did the word have some roundabout origin? 排 means row/rank, which has ...
9
votes
4answers
204 views

Origin of 乎 as a bound morpheme in words such as 热乎

Here are a couple compound words that end with 乎: 热乎,温乎,確乎,玄乎,忙乎,晕乎,近乎,热乎乎,傻乎乎 Is there an understanding of how 乎 became used in these words? Does it have any relation to the classical usage of 乎 as ...
9
votes
4answers
176 views

案: why is a bench also a case?

Sorry about the cryptic title. 案 is a character that can mean "bench"/"desk" but it can also mean "(legal) case" or "file": 长形的桌子或架起来代替桌子用的长木板:~子。~板。书~。条~。拍~而起。 ...
8
votes
3answers
489 views

How is adding oil going to beneficial to the situation? 加油

Is anyone able to explain the history behind this cheer? At the face of it I'm unsure how this could be a cheer as 加 translate to add/plus/apply and 油 translates to oil/fat/grease you would think ...
8
votes
3answers
212 views

Origin of -的干活?

There is a facetious phrase for asking someone what they do, using "的干活", most commonly in the fragment "什么的干活", or in this example exchange: A: 你的,什么的干活? (Who are you?) B: 我的,农民的干活. (I am a ...
8
votes
1answer
205 views

Geopolitical History of Simplified Chinese

I've always been fascinated about the etymology of languages and believe that we are seeing a significant series of changes within chinese. There are some fairly good technical references for the ...
7
votes
6answers
153 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 – ...
7
votes
2answers
232 views

Why does 有机 as in 有机食品 mean organic?

有 and 机 are some of the first characters we learn in Chinese, but I only recently found out that they mean "organic" when put together. Can anyone explain why this is?
7
votes
1answer
237 views

Pronunciation of 和 in Taiwan

This is something that I noticed in Taiwanese Mandarin TV series and films. It seems that they pronounce this character as hàn instead of the commonly accepted hé. For example, 我和你 is pronounced wǒ ...
7
votes
3answers
424 views

Anyone know why cellphones are called 大哥大 in Taiwan?

I was looking at Singapore Mandarin from the question here on Hong Kong Mandarin and came across the word for cellphone. I know it's popular now to refer to cellphones as 手机 but I remember in Taiwan ...
7
votes
2answers
382 views

How are new words added to the Chinese language?

I'm always curious to know, as the world develops and new words come into existence, how are they adopted by the Chinese language? Is there some sort of government body that decides these sort of ...
7
votes
3answers
368 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
389 views

Origin of beautiful kingdom and hero kingdom

Why in Mandarin chinese, USA is beautiful kingdom and England is hero kingdom?
6
votes
3answers
417 views

Dog radical (犭) for non-Han ethnic groups

As far as I understand, the dog radical (犭) was used for all non-Han ethnic groups before the Chinese Communist Party took power on the mainland. Is there truth to that? If so: Why did the CCP stop ...
6
votes
4answers
166 views

What's the origin of 外子?

When I was young, I read Traditional Chinese Reader's Digest. I noticed that the translation of husband is 外子. That's the first time I noticed this usage. Anyone has any clue about why this is being ...
6
votes
3answers
248 views

What's the relationship between 炮 and 砲?

炮 and 砲 both mean "cannon", but it seems the former is much more common, and the latter only really seen in Xiangqi. Is there a difference in meaning? For example, on wikipedia it is said that 砲 ...
5
votes
1answer
168 views

How is the Kanji character 豚 related to the chinese 猪 / 豬

The Chinese character for pig is 猪 / 豬 (zhu1) In many Japanese restaurants around Hong Kong I've seen this somewhat different character 豚 which appears to also mean pig. How would you say it in ...
5
votes
1answer
236 views

Did a king ask for a ball? How did 王 + 求 become 球?

The character 球 means ball and is composed of 王 meaning king and 求 meaning demand. Where does this composition come from? Did a king ask for a ball?
5
votes
3answers
280 views

三长两短: what's long and what's short?

(求词源) 三长两短 is a chengyu that means "unforeseen disaster". It can also be a euphemism for death. Here's an example of its usage: 明·罗贯中《三遂平妖传》:“万一些后再有三长两短,终不能靠着太医活命。” What is its etymology ...
5
votes
3answers
364 views

Reasons for Chinese changing from monosyllabic to disyllabic?

Classical and Middle Chinese are often considered monosyllabic languages - most words are single syllables. Modern Chinese however is considered disyllabic - most words are two syllables. For ...
5
votes
2answers
504 views

Why does 三八 mean gossip?

I've heard in 广东 (guangdong) the term 三八 to mean "gossip", particularly for a woman who gossips. Is this common throughout China, and why does it have this meaning?
5
votes
2answers
206 views

Is the character 年 (or its etymology) related to the mythical beast in Chinese mythology?

Premise: According to the mythology related to the Chinese New Year, a creature called 年 (also referred to as 年兽 — pinyin: nián shòu — 年獸 in Traditional chinese) was a mythical beast that "lived under ...
5
votes
2answers
228 views

Similar pronunciations of tea/茶 across languages

The Cantonese (Yale cha4), Mandarin (pinyin chá) and Kan’yōon (cha) pronounciations of 茶 are similar to the Russian чай (IPA t͡ɕaj) word for tea. Do these have a common origin?
5
votes
4answers
224 views

Why is the radical of 难 > 隹 and not 又

难 nan2, difficult; hard Kangxi radical 172 隹 My teacher says the radical for this character is 又 but the dictionary is clear 隹
5
votes
1answer
193 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
190 views

零售 - Why is the character for “zero” used in the Chinese word for retail?

Why is retail referred to as 零售 in Chinese? Why the combination of "zero" with "sales"? Certainly one expects to make (hopefully many) sales in retail so why was the character for "zero" used here? It ...
5
votes
2answers
237 views

Questions on “的话”

What is the etymology behind "的话" in the common construct 如果...的话 or 要是...的话? In addition to wondering about it's meaning, what exactly is the 的 doing? Is it modifying the 如果? Is it modifying the ...
4
votes
4answers
159 views

Etymology of 汉语

I knew a Chinese woman who taught me a lot about Chinese languages. One of them was about 汉语's etymology. I was told that all parts of these characters had a meaning connected to the History of ...
4
votes
2answers
434 views

Different pronounciation for the number 'one'?

Was talking to my friend (native Chinese) the other day and when she read out a phone number she said "yao" for all the "ones" in the phone number. However, as far as I remember, for all other cases ...
4
votes
3answers
172 views

Where does 馬上 originate from?

馬上 can be used as an adverb that roughly means "at once" or "immediately", for instance in: 我馬上來幫你. It can also mean "on horseback". Where does the usage with the sense of "at once" originate from, ...
4
votes
5answers
278 views

What was this online dictionary's name with ancient traditional and simplified characters and etymology?

I once found a Mandarin Chinese dictionary which for each character listed the ancient, the traditional and the simplified Chinese characters. For each it described its meaning and how it developed ...
4
votes
3answers
213 views

Do 之 and 的 come from the same word?

In modern Chinese 之 is thought of as the literary genitive particle and 的 as the colloquial. In most reconstructions of Old Chinese 之 looks very similar to the way 的 is pronounced now. For example in ...
4
votes
1answer
252 views

What is the etymology of 放我一马?

I've heard this a couple times now and most recently in a movie "钢的琴". It's an idiom that means "cut me some slack"; "let me off the hook". I couldn't make sense of the Baidu encyclopedia so I'm ...
4
votes
3answers
343 views

Why does 拉倒 mean “forget about it”?

拉倒 is a word that can mean "forget about it". For example: 鲁迅 《华盖集续编·马上支日记》:“现在这书既然借不到,只好拉倒了。” This seems strange though, because 拉倒 literally means "to pull over". What is the etymology of this ...
4
votes
2answers
253 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: ...
4
votes
2answers
169 views

Etymology of 其他

In Chinese, one uses the phrase 其他 when refering to other things. In Japanese one uses a similiar phrase: 其の他 (Sono ta), where 其 is often written in Hiragana: その他. Since the meaning is identical, I ...
3
votes
3answers
476 views

Does the beta like character (as in 陳, 附 and many more) in Chinese have a special meaning?

It probably doesn't. I tried searching but couldn't find one. But would be great if it does! Would help me remember so many new words. I hope somebody has figured out a pedagogical role of that ...
3
votes
2answers
484 views

Etymology of 奴隶 (Slave)

I vaguely remember hearing somebody make observations about the word 奴隶 (slave). I would like to verify the impressions of the person who was speaking as being factual or just his impressions What is ...
3
votes
2answers
126 views

Development of 輸

The character 輸 was originally pronounced yu (indicated by the right side phonetic) and meant to transport. How did it come to be pronounced shu (Mandarin) and take on the meaning of to lose?
3
votes
5answers
689 views

Origin of 呆在 vs 待在

Both 呆在 and 待在 are acceptable ways of writing dai1 zai4 meaning "stay at/in". For instance, a couple sentences from iciba: 我们因天气寒冷呆在家里。 Because of the cold weather, we stayed at home. ...
3
votes
2answers
269 views

留学: Why the use of “留”?

I'm sure like many students of Chinese, my first encounter with the character 留 was in the word 留学, meaning "to study abroad". Some time later I encountered 留 as an independent word, meaning "to ...