New answers tagged etymology
先生 literally means "earlier born." It is a form of respect for an older person, usually a man. The normal context of 先生 is "teacher." A fairly old man (as Mao was at the time) would use this in reference only to a female who could reasonably be his "teacher" or "role model." It is a way of acknowledging his intellectual debt to such a woman.
As a supplement to the answers above, in Mainland China 先生 is equivalent to Mister, so you can never address a female as 先生, but you might read about it in old books, and you CAN call an elderly female scholar 先生, especially when in formal context, in the obituary for example.
Nope. The radical was simplified from 玉 (jade), originally referring to a polished sphere of jade. 求 is the phonetic component. For reference, Baxter's Old Chinese reconstruction has 求 *grju, and 球 *grju. In this particular case, 求 has remained a good phonetic for three millennia! The sense of 'sounding stone made of jade' can be seen in the Kangxi ...
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