Originally posted at http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/read.php?4,130404

由細到大,自己同身邊嘅人都將「劉備」個「備」字讀成與(比)字同音 而「曹操」個「操」字就讀成與(粗)字同音

但最近睇港版,『三國 』(2013) 「劉備」個「備」字讀成「預備」個「備」 而「曹操」個「操」字就讀成「情操」個「操」即係與(噪)字同音。


I asked this question because 「」 in 「情」/ cing4 cho3/ and 「步」/bou6 cho1/ are pronounced differently in Cantonese. However, when I check 「操」 in Mandarin, there is only one reading /cao1/ for 「操」,


Did Mainland Chinese merge the two different readings of 「操」 in Mandarin or the two different readings of 操 were from ancient Chinese and only Cantonese inherited the practice?

  • 1
    操 does have two readings: cāo and cào. It is likely that 情操 used to be pronounced qíngcào in the past but due to the negative connotations associated with the "cào" pronunciation it probably merged with cāo. Here's《古汉语大词典》's entry for 操 cāo(二)(cāo,旧读cào)①操守;节操。《汉书•张汤传》:“虽贾人,有贤操。” ②琴曲的一种。如:《龟山操》;《猗兰操》。应劭《风俗通•声音》:“其遇闭塞忧愁而作者,命其曲曰操。” ③通“掺”。击鼓的调子。
    – Mou某
    Apr 24, 2018 at 8:41
  • @user3306356 'due to the negative connotations associated with the "cào" pronunciation' What was the negative connotations? I've never heard of that.
    – user13501
    Apr 25, 2018 at 4:28
  • 2
    @超酷爆帅型男 cào pretty much only means fuck in Modern Standard Mandarin and nothing else. Even if you look up 操 with the pronunciation cào most materials define it as fuck except for 古汉语词典 which will give you an “old reading” explanation.
    – Mou某
    Apr 25, 2018 at 4:33
  • @user3306356 Even though what you say is true, I don't think that is the reason why cao4 is not used. First, the use of 操 as a curse has not been documented by an authentic dictionary. Second, cao1 has been the only pronunciation of 操 for a long time and using it as a curse seem to be a rather (relatively) recent phenomenon.
    – trisct
    Aug 27, 2019 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


Modern Mandarin Chinese has been very different from Medieval Chinese, while Cantonese has preserved much legacy from the latter.

Although I don't speak Cantonese, I think it's plausible that 操 in Medieval Chinese and in Cantonese has more than one pronunciation.
However, even in Modern Chinese, pronunciations do change over time, especially when a commonly-used word sounds like... fuck. (You can also see many people online using 操 instead of the original fuck character to express that meaning, but they do this just because they don't know which is the original character, or they need to avoid censorship...).

OK. Time for a sip of knowledge. I said pronunciations change over time in Modern Chinese. It happens mostly in characters that are commonly used, but have different pronunciations only when used as a surname:

盖(formerly ge3 like 舸, now mostly gai4)

纪(formerly ji3 like 己, now commonly ji4)

But this doesn't happen to all such characters:

解(always xie4 like 谢 if used as surname, rather than jie3)

仇(always qiu2 like 球 if used as surname, rather than chou2)

As far as I know, the only character other than surnames that has a changed pronunciation is:

帧("frame", formerly zheng4 like 正, now zhen1 like 真)

  • 1
    Another one, which is currently changing, is 血: according to the Standard, it’s either xuè or xiě, but most people nowadays seem to mix the two and pronounce it xuě (like 雪). Oct 3, 2018 at 21:34
  • And that is incorrect. Dec 29, 2018 at 3:20
  • Well, it’s considered incorrect for now. Sooner or later, it’ll probably become so ubiquitous that it becomes a standard form alongside the other two. Dec 29, 2018 at 10:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Actually the pronunciation xuě matches the medieval pronunciation [xiwet], while xiě is just the colloquial pronunciation in Beijing dialect. I don't know why Standard Mandarin chooses xiě.
    – Victor
    Jan 17, 2019 at 18:56
  • @Victor Unless I’m misremembering, the selection of standardised pronunciations for characters with variations did not usually take historical forms into account much. They based their decisions more on existing stigmatised and prestigious forms, cross-dialectally. I would posit that xuě had either disappeared as a common variant at the time, or that it was stigmatised in one way or another, though I have no actual knowledge that that was the deciding factor in this case. Jan 17, 2019 at 19:03

Tone are the same. Cantonese : cho1 Mandarin : cao

Meaning is different

In medieval Chinese , 「操」in「情操」 : virtue 「操」in「步操」 : march

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