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?

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    FYI, means chest/breast/thorax, not . Apr 18, 2015 at 2:25
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    @ThomasHsieh Check Pleco or en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%8C%88 I hope you know the story behind 永 and 泳 to understand why 匈 means thorax/chest/breast.
    – imrek
    Apr 18, 2015 at 5:38
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    I don't really think this interpretation listed on WP is correct. "奴" could mean "lowly people", but not necessarily literally "slave" in this context. It could also just be a pure transliteration. Not to mention "匈" is also more likely a transliteration of the sound instead of "fierce", because "fierce" is "凶"
    – xji
    Apr 18, 2015 at 7:26
  • @DrunkenMaster Thanks for the lesson! I have almost no knowledge on Chinese character etymology. Apr 18, 2015 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


is the ancient character of , means chest/breast. And I can't find any other original meaning of it besides this.

“胸”的古字 [bosom;chest]

According to the explanation of , it's a later character for .


匈奴 is just the transliteration from the name of an ancient nationality in North China, has nothing to do with fierce slaves.


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    Thanks for the 匈 ~ 胸 etymology. I hope other people, like @Thomas Hsieh can also understand this phenomenon.
    – imrek
    Apr 18, 2015 at 8:52
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    @DrunkenMaster BTW, back to your question, I can't find any other original meaning of it.
    – user4072
    Apr 18, 2015 at 9:14

凶 seems to mean fierce. http://www.zdic.net/z/15/js/51F6.htm 勹 means wrap.

'wrap up something fierce' Your raging spirit??

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