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

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4answers
108 views

How is the meaning of 不得已 formed?

I am under the impression that Chinese multi-character words form their meaning from that of the characters that form these words. (Let me know if I am mistaken!) I know that 不得已 means "to have to". ...
2
votes
1answer
38 views

Is the Chinese character “蒙” being associated with Mongolia and ignorance coincidence?

In the translingual section, Wiktionary mentions that the Chinese character 蒙 has a variety of meanings: to cover ignorant suffer fourth hexagram of the I Ching Mongolia - radical composition ...
1
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1answer
43 views

Where did the word “panda” come from?

If pandas are from China and in Chinese they are called 熊猫 ("bear cat"), where did the word "panda", as seen in most western languages, come from?
10
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1answer
206 views

What does “老” in “老虎” and “老鼠” mean

As I remember, 虎 and 鼠 are standalone nouns, meaning tiger and mouse, respectively. However, it seems that 老虎 and 老鼠 are more commonly used. Why is 老 used as a prefix for 虎 and 鼠? Why do we use 獅子 ...
2
votes
2answers
149 views

Why “保重” means “take care”?

As far as I have learnt, for each Chinese word with more than one character, its meaning is formed from that of each character which it comprises. However, I cannot understand how the meaning of 保重 is ...
8
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4answers
1k views

A Complex Chinese Character

I randomly saw this character on the blog a while ago and saved a image of it as shown below. Is this even a character? If so, what does it mean? When is it used? What was the origin of it? How do ...
10
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1answer
384 views

How come 東/东 has a second meaning 'owner/master' or 'host'?

Examples include 房东 or 财东 and 东道, respectively. What is the etymology behind this additional meaning?
3
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1answer
91 views

Origin of the slang “機車”

I know that "機車" is motorcycle and it is also used as a slang word, but I was unsure of its meaning. Thus, i checked this page, and I was confused by its ambiguity when translated to English, as ...
3
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2answers
161 views

丼: why is “well” also “bowl of food”?

丼 is an ancient variant of 井, which means "well" (as in the water kind). What's curious is that the former seems to also mean "bowl of food", at least in some dictionaries: 汉典: English bowl ...
4
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2answers
71 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?
8
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2answers
192 views

What is the first attested use of 美國/美国 in the sense of 'America' in Chinese?

The beginnings of Sino-American relations date back to the late 18th century (e.g. the Old China Trade). When did the Chinese begin to refer to America (or the US) as 美國/美国? Were there alternative ...
18
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2answers
6k 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?
0
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4answers
132 views

Logic behind the strokes of complex characters

I am learning Chinese now, and we've been introduced to Chinese characters as 'pictograms'. I understand the logic behind some characters, like 口 mouth to and 人 person. But, what about complex ...
2
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2answers
98 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 ...
9
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2answers
363 views

Why is 月 used when speaking about anatomy?

One thing I've been curious about while learning Chinese is the use of 月 in many 汉字 representing anatomical features (for example, 脸, 腰, or 腿). What is the etymology of the use of 月 as a radical?
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1answer
59 views

Does anyone known a source where find from which characters the modern one borrowed their loaned meanings?

Like I said in the title I would really like to know if anyone knows where to find the original characters that gave to the modern one their loaned meanings.
4
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3answers
331 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, ...
5
votes
3answers
181 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. ...
3
votes
3answers
205 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 ...
4
votes
3answers
266 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, ...
8
votes
2answers
454 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
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1answer
68 views

殊: Why 歺(歹)+朱? How did it get to mean special (in a good way)?

How did 殊, as in: 特殊、殊技、殊荣、殊勋、殊遇、殊遇 come to have it's meaning of special? 歺(歹)+朱 paint out a rather, more, grim meaning if anything... 說文解字: 死也。从歺朱聲。漢令曰:“蠻夷長有罪,當殊之。”市朱切 How did 殊 get to mean ...
8
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2answers
238 views

Are the Cantonese word 係 and the Japanese word はい related?

The Cantonese word meaning "to be", written as 係 (Jyutping: hai6) sounds similar to the Japanese word はい ("hai" in various Romanizations). Both words are used to answer "yes" or "it is correct" to ...
4
votes
2answers
124 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 ...
14
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5answers
1k 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, ...
5
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1answer
141 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 ...
20
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8answers
823 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". ...
5
votes
1answer
196 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 ...
2
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1answer
82 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. ...
1
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1answer
246 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?
0
votes
3answers
52 views

What is the oldest retracable meaning for the character/word 臾?

臾 (yu2) in classical Chinese means "for a while". I assume "for a while" was not the original meaning this character was associated with in the time when it came, by what mysterious brain activity ...
4
votes
1answer
52 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 ...
9
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6answers
416 views

家: why is a home a place for pigs?

The character 家 is a bit of a joke: it describes a dwelling (宀) for pigs (豕). Why is this strange construction used? Were pigs somehow important for homes in the past? 说文解字 describes 家 as 从宀,豭省聲 - ...
10
votes
10answers
252 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 – ...
6
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1answer
254 views

Etymology of 至关(重要)

至关重要 strikes me as a four-character idiom instead of a Chengyu, and it didn't even make an entry on 现代汉语词典 or ZDic.net. However, that couldn't explain the fact that the specific character combination ...
1
vote
4answers
119 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 ...
2
votes
3answers
469 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. ...
6
votes
4answers
502 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. ...
2
votes
1answer
75 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 ...
3
votes
5answers
387 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
181 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。 ...
6
votes
3answers
580 views

哪儿 vs. 哪里, Difference in Meaning?

Is there any difference in meaning between 哪儿 and 哪里? If not, then how did the two different words come to be employed? Does 儿 have a meaning, or is it just a sound? I know that there are many ...
4
votes
3answers
522 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
108 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 ...
5
votes
6answers
726 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 ...
8
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4answers
205 views

Etymology of 汉语

I knew a Chinese woman who taught me a lot about Chinese languages. One of them was about 汉语's etymology. I was told that all parts of these characters had a meaning connected to the History of ...
1
vote
1answer
170 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
349 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 ...
7
votes
3answers
265 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 ...
25
votes
7answers
1k views

Why is 有 (yǒu) the only verb that requires 没 while other verbs can use 不?

To negate something, we use 不 (bù) before the verb, such as in this short dialogue: A: 你是老师吗?= Are you a teacher? B: 不是。= I'm not. However, the verb 有 (yǒu) is the only one that requires 没 ...