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As far as I know, both 翼 and 翅膀 mean "wing". I've heard people say "雞翼", "雞翅膀", "固定翼飛機", "鳥翅膀". All of these are wings, so what is the difference between 翼 and 翅膀? When should one be used over the other?

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翅膀 is a compound word only refers to actual wing attached to living creatures. Airplane's wing can only be called 機翼

翼 is a general term for wing. Beside describing all kind of wings. It can also be used metaphorically. For example: '左翼' (left wing) '右翼' (right wing) in politic; '側翼' (side wing) in military formations; 翼鋒 (left or right side striker) in soccer; 東翼 (East wing), 南翼(South wing), 西翼(West wing), 北翼(North wing) of a building

You cannot replace 翼 with 翅膀 in these examples

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翅膀 is Modern Vernacular Chinese, while 翼 is Classical Chinese.

Think of Classical Latin terms used in Modern English, such as "de facto", "de jure", and "etc". The difference between 翅膀 and 翼 is just like the difference between "fear of heights" and "acrophobia".

鸡翼 / 雞翼 = 鸡翅膀 / 雞翅膀 = chicken wing(s)


However, 翅膀 is preferred to be used for living animals, such as 鸡翅膀 (chicken wings), while 翼 is more often used for aircrafts or politics, such as 机翼 / 機翼 (aircraft wings) and 左翼 (left-wing politics).

I think that it is mainly because technical terms are always chosen from classical words while colloquial terms are mainly chosen from vernacular words. This phenomenon also exists in English: when talking about technical terms, people choose words from Latin or Greek, such as acrophobia, pedophobia, xenophobia; when talking about colloquial terms, people choose words from English, such as fear of heights, fear of children, fear of foreigners.

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users recommend consulting online dictionaries noting large number of usage examples, bkrs: I b.f.(bound form !) 1) wing (双翼) ①<名>鸟类或昆虫的翅膀。 2) flank (左翼) examples of bound form use: 右翼 左翼 两翼 侧翼 羽翼 机翼 不翼而飞 鼻翼 比翼 如虎添翼 极右翼 比翼齐飞 南翼 双翼 尾翼 比翼鸟 蝉翼 卵翼 水翼船

翅膀 unbound!(free)① 翅通称。 ② 物体上形状或作用像翅膀的部分:飞机翅膀。 某些动物用以飞行的器官或某些象翅膀的东西 鸟类及昆虫的翼CL:个,对 (naturally no CL for 翼)

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