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

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6
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3answers
805 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
334 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?
6
votes
2answers
316 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
152 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
297 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
932 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
484 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
3answers
352 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: ...
6
votes
4answers
510 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
303 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
119 views

What happened to the Old Chinese coda -p of 拉 in Cantonese?

Baxter's Middle Chinese reconstruction has 拉 as *lop, which surprised me given that the Cantonese reflex is laai1. Other characters with the rime -op such as 合, 答 and 雜 end up with the rime -ap or ...
6
votes
2answers
251 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
538 views

快: why does “fast” also mean “happy”?

The character 快 is usually used for the meaning of "fast", but it is also used in the sense of "pleasant" or "happy" - for example, in the words 痛快, 爽快. It seems that both meanings are quite ancient. ...
5
votes
6answers
739 views

犬子: who's the dog?

犬子 (literally, dog + son) is an archaic, self-depreciatory term to refer to your son (occasionally it's used to insult other people's sons). This answer raises a question though; who is the dog ...
5
votes
2answers
792 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
146 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
548 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
433 views

Pattern in the Chinese numbers 1 to 9

I know a lot of Chinese characters are either a symbol of something or a combination of symbols in the space of one character, so what's the origin of the symbol for numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9? since ...
5
votes
3answers
384 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
1answer
215 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
360 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
280 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?
5
votes
2answers
322 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
183 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. ...
5
votes
3answers
533 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
201 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, ...
5
votes
2answers
103 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
105 views

When was 华/華 first used as a reference to China?

E.g. as in 中华 or 华语, and other similar words.
5
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2answers
231 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 ...
4
votes
6answers
849 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. ...
4
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
147 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 ...
4
votes
3answers
353 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, ...
4
votes
2answers
108 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
103 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?
4
votes
3answers
277 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, ...
4
votes
1answer
139 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?
4
votes
2answers
187 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
76 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
57 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
194 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。 ...
3
votes
2answers
871 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
146 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
267 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
236 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
214 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 ...
3
votes
5answers
398 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
309 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
1answer
196 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
95 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 ...