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

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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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3answers
308 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 ...
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235 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 ...
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2answers
183 views

奇 is a strange character

Lost Etymology 奇 ( jī | qí ) is a character that means strange but the etymology appears to have been lost. At least as far as I can tell after researching offline books, zhongwen.com, and ...
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2answers
243 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 ...
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3answers
409 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 ...
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3answers
185 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, ...
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2answers
198 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 ...
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6answers
765 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. ...
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3answers
509 views

Why is the 会 in 会计 pronounced kuài?

The character 会 has two different pronunciations; usually it is huì but in 会计 it is pronounced kuài. It seems that the latter pronunciation is exclusively used in the "accounting" meaning. How did ...
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1answer
135 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 ...
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2answers
279 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 ...
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2answers
138 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, ...
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2answers
132 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 ...
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1answer
146 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。 ...
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283 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: ...
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2answers
617 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 ...
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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?
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5answers
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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 ...
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1answer
223 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 ...
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3answers
208 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 ...
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5answers
373 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 ...
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1answer
175 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 ...
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1answer
155 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 ...
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3answers
224 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?
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1answer
160 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 ...
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3answers
444 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 ...
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1answer
243 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 ...
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3answers
541 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 ...
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5answers
140 views

What is the etymology and usage of 爱不释手

爱不释手 be so fond of something that one will not let it out of one's hand So I'm guessing 爱 would be the being fond of something and the 不释手 would be the not letting go. I feel like it's missing ...
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3answers
376 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. ...
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1answer
196 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 ...
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1answer
60 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. In this case, I keep thinking there must be a larger ...
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1answer
69 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 ...
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4answers
280 views

Why is George 乔治 in Chinese?

I've always been puzzled at the origin of the translation of "George" into Chinese. It's probably the only (pardon me if there are more) name that does not sound like its English counterpart.
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1answer
135 views

招财、招福, why cats?

I have heard the phrase "猫来穷, 狗来富" before but everywhere people have 招财猫s and 招福猫 ornaments, bracelets and the like. So what's the deal? What's the association between cats and good fortune and/or ...
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4answers
111 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 ...
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3answers
203 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 ...
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2answers
141 views

Usage and origins of 打机

In Cantonese, 打机 is used colloquially to refer to playing video or computer games. Where does the expression/word come from, and is it also used in Mandarin? If not, what is a similar Mandarin ...
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135 views

The origin of pinyin [duplicate]

Pinyin is really strange. It is like the English word, but with different meaning and pronunciation. I want to know the origin of pinyin. If someone can give a clear answer, I will be very ...
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3answers
83 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 ...
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1answer
163 views

减/減 (Reduce/Subtract/Decrease/Diminish): What's it got to do with water?

So here we have 冫+咸 (or 氵+咸) = 减(減). 减(減) means something along the lines of reduce/subtract/decrease/diminish or what have you. What has water got to do with this though? Logically one would ...
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1answer
79 views

Character or Word Etymology Resources

I know this topic has - kind of - been discussed over here: What etymology dictionaries are available? (In order to avoid seeming like I'm advertising for anyone I will refrain from ...
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1answer
197 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 ...
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3answers
271 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 ...
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120 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 ...