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In the tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, one of the monsters is a snake/man hybrid named "yuan-ti." The earliest appearance of this name is in Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1981), in which the name supposedly translates to "demon men." The name is gibberish that sounds vaguely of Chinese origin (and the monsters are sometimes depicted in clothing/arms/architecture with a Chinese-influenced aesthetic), perhaps a combination of the syllables yuan or you an plus ti or di.

Is there any possible way that a Chinese phrase approximating that could translate into an appropriate name for said monster? I know virtually nothing about Chinese besides what little I read online. I looked through Chinese dictionaries and the best I could come up with was 妖蜿者 yāo wān zhě, which is not a real phrase but approximates the apparent pronunciation and meaning of the monster's name... if filtered through game of telephone, I guess?

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imo, "yuan-ti" is a transliteration of chinese, using older scheme of romanisation. the characters represented are "軟體" (a pliable body), quite a good description of "snake-related-monster".

the "華英萬字典", printed in 1907,

enter image description here

had the entry of "軟" (juan3, jwan)

https://archive.org/stream/chineseenglishdi00pole#page/339/mode/1up

and, 體 (ti3)

https://archive.org/stream/chineseenglishdi00pole#page/386/mode/1up

it's not far away from "juan" to "yuan" :)

  • That makes a lot of sense as a possible etymology. Very good! – Anonymous Sep 7 '18 at 10:52
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Although yuan-ti does indeed sound Chinese, I don't believe that it corresponds to actual Chinese words which mean demon men or snake men. Chinese versions of DnD (not really official) just translates yuan-ti to 蛇人 (shé rén), which literally means snake people and sounds nothing like yuan-ti.

See this Sina blog.

This Zhihu question asks "Why is 蛇人 called yuan-ti in English?" for which the most popular answer says that "it's not a Chinese-made game", implying that it's non-Chinese gibberish.

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    It could be derived from the idiom 敬鬼神而远之 "to respect Gods and demons from a distance", whose last two hanzi (yuǎnzhī) sound loosely similar to the monster's name, but I suspect I am grasping at straws. In all likelihood the name was chosen based on what sounded cool. – Anonymous Sep 5 '18 at 17:52
  • @Anonymous that's a good speculation! Unfortunately, we may never know the true answer, and it may not even by from Chinese at all; if I'm not mistaken, the creator has already passed away? – droooze Sep 6 '18 at 2:53

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