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

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308 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 ...
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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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3answers
321 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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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 ...
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1answer
118 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 ...
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1answer
179 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 ...
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2answers
200 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
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 ...
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3answers
452 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
186 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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203 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
781 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
515 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
137 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
92 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 ...
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2answers
285 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
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, ...
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2answers
144 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
49 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 ...
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1answer
152 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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293 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
671 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
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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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5answers
379 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
202 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
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 ...
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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?
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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 ...
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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 ...
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1answer
256 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
560 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
144 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
413 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
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 ...
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3answers
122 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
62 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
73 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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1answer
73 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. ...
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4answers
284 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
137 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
112 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
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 ...
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1answer
136 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?
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2answers
144 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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2answers
140 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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1answer
165 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
85 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 ...