“Skinny” (瘦) is clearly written with a sickness radical (病字旁): 疒.

Outlier, also, writes the following in its definition:

瘦 shòu is composed of 叟 sǒu and 疒 “to be sick, not well,” pointing to the original meaning “to have little muscle or fat; to be skinny.” 叟 gives the sound.

What sickness was 瘦 actually referring to though? Or is it simply that all these people vying to loose weight just can't wait to be “ill”?

  • 6
    Losing weight is a modern aspiration, because food is not a rarity. in older days, being fat was a symbol of wealth and abundance, while being skinny was a sign of poverty and malnutrition. – dROOOze Dec 15 '19 at 2:06

「瘦」is comprised of semantic「疒」(sickness) and phonetic「叟」, indicating the meaning underdeveloped muscles and fat; emaciated (speaking about the body).

The skinny meaning is not how we view the meaning skinny in modern terms.

  • Today, especially in countries which are not struck by famine or poverty, skinny is viewed as a better state than obese. To become skinny/thin is to change from an unhealthy obese weight.
  • In the olden days, skinny is a synonym for malnutritioned/pallid/emaciated, hence the use of「疒」.
  • FYI: There is an equivalent character「膄」which doesn't use「疒」. It means the same thing, but I think something happened in Mandarin to「瘦」which made the pronunciation of 「膄」and「瘦」slightly different. – dROOOze Dec 16 '19 at 2:53

the original meaning of 疒 "chuáng"(same as 床). From《說文解字.疒部》:「疒,倚也。人有疾痛也,象倚箸之形。」, 疒 is a pictogram and means a man is ill or hurt and leaning on a bed. and 叟 itself means old man, both in past and now. Therefore, 瘦 can also be interpreted as an old man lying on a bed, which now has the meaning of skinny.

I don't know, maybe the word creator claims that an old sick man lying on a bed long enough makes him skinny?


It depend on situation and context.

When some overweight people trying to lose weight receive this comment such as 你好像瘦了一圈 (in English: You seem to be thinner especially your waist.) that can be a good things.

It can be not so good if someone be described as 他瘦得只剩下皮包骨(in English: He is skinny that there are few flesh between his skin and bone. And as if his bone only wrapped by his skin.) that can be considered unhealthily skinny.

If you want to express that someone is slim, you can use 苗條 to describe it.

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