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I'm thinking of 词 such as

  • 天真 = naive, but 天 = sky, 真 = real
  • 马上 = immediately, but 马 = horse, 上=up

also, if you could please provide any resource or insight on why these 词 are the way that they are. There's also 成语, which functions similarly, but that's probably going to lead to another question.

  • Like this 老婆饼, 夫妻肺片? – Shaw Feb 18 at 2:12
  • Or 江湖, 纵横. – Shaw Feb 18 at 2:18
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They are compound words

Most characters have multiple meanings, in many cases an individual character in a compound word can also be a short form for another word

Example:

"天真" is combination of two adjectives

  • 天 means 天然 (natural)

  • 真 is short for 純真 (pure/ innocent)

  • "天真" = natural + innocent = naive

As for "馬上", it is a combination of a noun and a preposition

"馬上" literally means "on the horse" . To get to the meaning of immediately, you have to use some extension of logic. When a rider mounted his horse, the departure is immediate, therefore, "馬上" is used for the meaning of immediately.

There are many ways compound words are coined, you just have to memorize every individual compound word, like you would memorize every individual English word

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  • I guess 馬上 made sense logically. It was just that 天真 caught me off guard seeing that there was no way to deduce that meaning by looking at the word (without memorizing it or understanding its etymology, which I couldn't find, and I kinda figured that sometimes there's no way to apply logic but to memorize). I thought maybe they were in some sense more special than other character types where logic makes sense. Take 馬虎 = careless, simply no way to logically deduce that even through etymology or understanding each of their components. Also, thank you! – Lenny Feb 18 at 4:05
  • This question truly highlights the fundamental difficulties in studying Chinese, or indeed any language. One could read and understand a single character perfectly well but when combined into compound words it takes a certain amount of in-depth knowledge of not just the language itself but more than a passing acquaintance with the histro-cultural background of the civilization that gave birth to the language, as Tang Ho has briefly pointed out. – Wayne Cheah Feb 18 at 4:05
  • 东西 is another culprit: one of those words where you couldn't know it meant something unless you were pretty much told that's its usage, the etymology exists too but that's just too much haha. – Lenny Feb 18 at 4:10

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