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

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3
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1answer
201 views

What's the significance of 家 in 国家?

国家 and 国 both mean "country" or "nation". However, what's the significance of the character 家 in the word? Does it really add the meaning of "home" or "family"? Is there a cultural or historical basis ...
4
votes
2answers
232 views

Etymology of 二百五?

二百五 is Chinese slang for an idiot, but how did it come about? What's the earliest recorded usage of this term in this meaning? There are many theories for its origin, this page lists as many as 6 ...
7
votes
3answers
254 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
245 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?
0
votes
3answers
227 views

What does “&” (Ampersand) means in Chinese language? [closed]

While visiting Dr. Sun Yat-sun Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver, B.C. I noticed the sign "&" (Ampersand) is posted everywhere. The tour guide said that "&" means money in Chinese, it is ...
6
votes
3answers
449 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
254 views

Meaning of 白 in words for “nonsense”?

There are a number of Chinese words containing the 白 character that all mean "nonsense" or "speaking nonsense": 白呼 夸白 白话 What's the significance of 白 in these words? 白 usually means ...
4
votes
2answers
130 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, ...
3
votes
2answers
117 views

What's the origin of the proverbial phrase, “Sky falls/does not fall big pancakes”?

I know a Chinese proverbial phrase. Translated literally into English, it says something along the lines of "Sky falls big pancakes". When used negatively in the phrase, "The sky does not fall big ...
8
votes
3answers
395 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
153 views

What is the origin of the proverbial phrase, “Drink the Northwestern winds”?

I know of a Chinese proverb that warns against something along the lines of idleness. Translated literally into English, it would be something along the lines of "Drink the Northwestern winds." What ...
3
votes
2answers
133 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
1answer
138 views

Were the choice of characters in compound words based on their intrinsic meaning, or are their meaning derived from their use in compound words?

It is sort of a chicken and egg question. Before I started to think (maybe too much), I just assumed that Chinese characters had their own independent meaning and got chosen in certain compound words ...
2
votes
1answer
184 views

Semantic radical and dictionary header for 将

The Unihan standard, just like virtually every online dictionary, lists 寸 as the 部首 for 将. The 部首归部 reference published in 2009 ...
7
votes
1answer
249 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?
6
votes
2answers
558 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?
6
votes
5answers
310 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
261 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
222 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
147 views

Origin of the word “娘惹”

I know what 娘惹 means (wikipedia), however, I couldn't find any reference on its origin. Is it a Chinese transliteration of a Malaysian word, a Cantonese/Hokkien word or a Mandarin word? What's the ...
8
votes
6answers
170 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 – ...
4
votes
1answer
132 views

What is etymology for 沙龙?

I've noticed that hairdressing shops are usually called 沙龙 [shā-lóng]. Obviously, it's not a "sand dragon", but a direct transliteration of English "salon" instead. What is the reason for using a ...
5
votes
2answers
184 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 ...
8
votes
3answers
451 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
497 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
282 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 ...
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votes
2answers
117 views

Is there any website of where I can look up the origins of a Chinese character? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What etymology dictionaries are available? What was this online dictionary's name with ancient traditional and simplified characters and etymology? I always wanted to ...
7
votes
1answer
182 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
233 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
182 views

Origin of 英国 (England)

I understand that 英国 has a phonetic origin, Yīng guó is rather close to England. However I would like to know if it is possible to find out who coined that translation, and if there is more to it than ...
10
votes
4answers
419 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
199 views

What's the difference between 词典, 辞典, and 字典?

I don't think they are necessarily different kinds of dictionaries, but is there a subtle distinction? Or maybe their etymologies?
1
vote
3answers
198 views

Chinese words that are their own antonyms

Are there (m)any Chinese words that are their own antonyms? Similar to English "terrific", "wicked", etc. (which originally had negative meanings and now have positive meanings). I imagine that as ...
3
votes
5answers
2k views

What is the correct way to write 'niu bi', and how did it get its meaning in Chinese?

'niu bi' (牛逼? like the bees knees in English) is one of the more amusing expressions I learnt in my time in China. The literal meaning in English is quite colourful, so I won't describe it here, but ...