Usually X+然 has some kind of meaning related to X, especially archaic usage. However I do not see any relationship between 居 "to reside" and "unexpectedly". Are there any historical sources that explain where this expression came from?

  • This isn’t a full answer so I’ll just leave a comment. It seems to come from medicine(?), strangely enough. 6 (med.) 居然 jūrán, peacefully, composed, serenely, placidly; also, clearly, obviously, manifestly, saliently; also, unexpectedly, on the contrary.
    – Mou某
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 6:21
  • 1
    The cc dictionary in my pleco app list 居 pronounced ji1 as an archaic sentence final expressing doubt. I could see a link between doubt and suddenness/unexpectedness.
    – Ludi
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 15:49
  • I think, in this context, 居 is a placeholder character for a syllable that expresses an utterance of surprise. I don't have evidence to back this up, unfortunately..
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 16:38
  • 1
    it may be comforting to know that Yip Po-ching, The Chinese Lexicon, has 54, i.e. 6 (time, e.g. 突然)and 12X4 (certainty 当然),(solemnity 俨然),(sadness 悄然),(calmness 坦然),(indifference 淡然),(surprise 竟然),(happiness 欣然),(clarity 昭然),(completeness 浑然),(futility 枉然),(concession 纵然),(others 悠然), examples for adverbial suffix 然,some of which have lower usage fr, i.e. higher fr # than 居然 which is not included.
    – user6065
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 17:06

3 Answers 3


You can find some early attestations of 居然 here: https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=gb&char=%E5%B1%85%E7%84%B6

居 means squat/occupy/dwell.

In Classical Chinese, 然 is a contraction of 如是 = "as such," which subsequently became productive as an adjective and adverb generator. You can mostly figure out the result by accounting for the grammatical context of the main verb.

Some not super obvious ones, including 居然:

  • 突然 = jump out as such = jumpy, jumpily = suddenly
  • 当然 = fit/match as such = fittingly
  • 依然 = lean on as such = dependable, dependably = still
  • 固然 = firm as such = certainly, undoubtedly
  • 自然 = originate as such = originally, naturally
  • 竟然 = culminate as such = finally, really, actually
  • 居然 = keep low as such = quietly, unexpectedly

out of my expection. I have never thought.

There is a famous 对联


There are customers visiting the Natural House, Unexpectedly, They come from the Heaven.


Just a guess: the character 居 originally is made up "From person squatting 尸 and upside down baby 古. Meaning the place you were born, dwelling." according to http://www.chineseetymology.org

Maybe, the original meaning of 居然 was 'an unexpected pregnancy or birth'

There is an old character 毓 yù: give birth to; bring up, educate. In Cantonese this is apparently pronounced juk1.

Attached are 2 images, one from zdic.net and one from chineseetymology.org

One is an old version of 毓, the other is an old version of 居

chineseetymology.org zdic.net

All supposition of course!

  • 古 is not an upside down baby. Upside down baby is written as ㄊ in regular script, almost the same shape as upside down 子, which is why 毓 and its more common variant 育 contain it; see Xiaoxuetang for an overview of 育, which is the character that your last image shows. 古 has 口 at the bottom, and in ancient scripts 口 looks like ㅂ and not a box like it does now; see this. ChineseEtymology is not very reliable for explanations, and you’ll get many things wrong if you use it.
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 23:50
  • Also, Cantonese juk1 indicates the phonetic component of 育 is 肉 (Cantonese juk6). 居 (Cantonese geoi1) sounds nothing like 育.
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 0:47
  • I'm sure you know better than I. You see no similarity between the 2 images? What do they represent to you? On the left is a person? Maybe a woman? Something is sticking out or coming out? What might that be? ㄊ: 古之「突」或「凸」,读「ㄊㄨ」 取其「ㄊ」声 突to dash / to move forward quickly / to bulge / to protrude / to break through / to rush out / sudden / Taiwan pr. [tu2] 要 shows a head coming out of a woman. The old character shows hands grasping. You may check zdic yourself for 毓 zdic.net/z/1c/zy/6BD3.htm
    – Pedroski
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 11:55
  • You can find a similarity between any two glyphs (trivial examples: 我 vs. 找, top of 衆 vs. 血), but linking them is pointless unless you can explain the origin of the similarities. (1) I don't see how 要 is relevant, but it originally depicted two hands 廾 grabbing the waist of a woman 女, indicating the original meaning 腰. (2) Zdic (see Shuowen and Kangxi) glosses ㄊ wth 从倒子 (upside-down child); please read the Chinese definitions. ㄊ is used elsewhere like in 棄 (abandon), where it depicted a child ㄊ and a rubbish bin. (3) 古 is not ㄊ; the bottom of 古 was always written with ㅂ.
    – dROOOze
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 12:35

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