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

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6
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3answers
386 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
155 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 ...
11
votes
11answers
309 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
90 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
94 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
113 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
315 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
525 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
125 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
117 views
2
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3answers
177 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
733 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
153 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
575 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
178 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
373 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
128 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
148 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
797 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
278 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
287 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 ...
11
votes
1answer
470 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
171 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
197 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
121 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?
9
votes
2answers
258 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
305 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
119 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
456 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?
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votes
1answer
70 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
429 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
187 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
264 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
300 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
687 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
91 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
170 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 ...
17
votes
4answers
2k 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
169 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
1k 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". ...
5
votes
1answer
243 views

Is 勺 really the phonetic component of 的?

The etymology of 的 is described here. Is this resource correct is saying that 勺 is this character's phonetic component? I ask because it doesn't seem to hint at the correct pronunciation at all. 勺 is ...
2
votes
1answer
93 views

Character etymology: are explanations in such dictionaries authoritative or just later vague interpretations?

I know this topic has been discussed in quite a few questions post on this site. My question concerns the 'authoritativeness' of such character etymologies based on the decomposition of characters. ...
1
vote
1answer
257 views

What is the meaning of 及 in the compound word 危及?

I know 及 as a conjungtion for words or phrases with the meaning "and". What meaning does 及 bear here that makes semantically sense?
0
votes
3answers
72 views

What is the oldest retracable meaning for the character/word 臾?

臾 (yu2) in classical Chinese means "for a while". I assume "for a while" was not the original meaning this character was associated with in the time when it came, by what mysterious brain activity ...
4
votes
1answer
58 views

What is the origin of giving certain corners within houses own name?

Thanks to another question on this forum i learned that the south-western corner of a house has its own name: 奥. I was very surprised of this notion and could not make any sense why there might be ...
1
vote
4answers
136 views

Meaning & Etyomology: 博眼球?

The only meaning of 博眼球 I've been able to come across is the following from a 百度知道 answer: 回头率高,吸引人的意思 but is it really that simple, is that all it means? 'An eyeball-turner?' What does 博 mean ...
2
votes
3answers
523 views

When radicals make words does Chinese convey two layers of meaning all the time?

I can recognize and translate the 215 radicals. Now, I'm told radicals combine with each other and other characters to make words, and that some radicals denote sound for pronunciation of the word. ...
2
votes
1answer
85 views

Comparative Etymology Of (Visually) Close Characters

As part of my learning experience, I am taking the useful advice someone offered and examining the many different tools available to learn more characters. To that effect, I am keying in the ...
3
votes
5answers
413 views

Explanation for the meaning of 八竿子打不着?

The modern colloquial phrase "八竿子打不着" is used as an adjective to describe "very distant, unrelated". Example: 这是八竿子打不着的事情,怎么能联系上呢? It literally means "couldn't hit with even eight poles". I can ...
4
votes
1answer
217 views

演 = 氵+ 寅 but what's it got to do with water!? How did it get its modern meanings?

氵+ 寅 = 演 zisea 拼音:yan3 ①根据事理推广发挥:推~。讲~(亦作“演讲”)。~义(以史书及传说的材料为基础,增添一些细节,用章回体写成的小说)。~绎(一种推理方法,由一般原理推出关于特殊情况下的结论)。 ②依照程式练习:~练。~示。~算。~武。~习。~兵场。 ③不断变化:~变。~化。 ...