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

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3
votes
1answer
229 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
254 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 ...
0
votes
3answers
303 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 ...
7
votes
4answers
289 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
7
votes
3answers
257 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 ...
21
votes
11answers
1k 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 ...
11
votes
4answers
517 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 ...
9
votes
2answers
270 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 ...
18
votes
4answers
986 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. ...
4
votes
2answers
286 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
143 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, ...
6
votes
3answers
596 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
216 views

Etymology of 三寸不烂之舌

三寸不烂之舌 is used to describe great eloquence, similar to the English phrase "silver tongue". How exactly did this phrase come about? What does "三寸" mean? What's the meaning of "烂" in this phrase? Some ...
4
votes
2answers
146 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
208 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
136 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
181 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
285 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?
2
votes
1answer
201 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
258 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?
3
votes
3answers
448 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 ...
8
votes
1answer
268 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
678 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
1answer
278 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
162 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 ...
11
votes
6answers
486 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 ...
8
votes
3answers
431 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
138 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
205 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 ...
9
votes
3answers
504 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 ...
4
votes
6answers
783 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. ...
5
votes
2answers
294 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
123 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
202 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
5answers
389 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
279 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
209 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
231 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
205 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 ...
14
votes
3answers
5k 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?
3
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
259 views

What is the exact meaning and etymology of 拜年?

Since Chinese New Year is on the way (and thanks to Xiaohouzi's great suggestion), I've been thinking all about the new year. One term the sticks out is 拜年. I'm very curious to know the exact ...
5
votes
2answers
248 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
617 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 ...
7
votes
3answers
240 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 is the character for "zero" used here? It ...
8
votes
2answers
597 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 ...
19
votes
8answers
687 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". ...
8
votes
2answers
335 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 only recently did I find out that they mean "organic" when put together. Can anyone explain why this is?
10
votes
10answers
235 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 – ...
14
votes
5answers
907 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, ...