p 1122, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed.

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CUHK doesn't expound. I quote Yellowbridge.

  1. Did misogyny or foot binding beget this semantic shift?

  2. I'm fascinated that a compound like 男 + 天 doesn't exist. So why did 女 become the semantic component? Why not some gender-neutral left radical?

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2 Answers 2


Here is the entry for 妖 from the Outlier dictionary:

妖 yāo is composed of 夭 yāo (also yǎo) and 女 “woman; female; people in general,” pointing to the original meaning “gorgeous, lovely.” 夭 gives the sound.


In 妖, 女 “woman; female; people in general” is a meaning component, pointing to the original meaning “gorgeous, lovely.”

In 妖 yāo, 夭 yāo (also yǎo) is a sound component.

Character meanings

1 (orig.) gorgeous, lovely
2 → seductive, bewitching
‎‎‎ 3 ⇒ witch
  4 ⇛ devil, demon
  5 ⇛ weird, strange

The meaning tree is especially helpful for seeing how word meanings evolved over time. They also cite a reference for this work:

王力 主編,2000《王力古漢語字典》,北京:中華書局,2007年重印。p. 189

The reference might have more of the same if that is what you are looking for.

To answer your other question: 男 is very rarely used as a character component; if something were related to men, you’d more than likely see a 亻component instead. ⿰亻夭 does have its own character: 仸.

  • Also 妖, when used for being "seductive, bewitching" is far from the modern positive sense of just being physically attractive to the male, but carries the negative notion of enticing men to their doom; like the Siren songs of Greek mythology which lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 10:08

妖 itself can have both the meaning of "seduction" and "evil", the word 妖艳 (coquettish) is such an example. So 妖 is not naturally linked with 女.

Also in Chinese culture many supernatural beings harm people indirectly via hypnosis (or say, causing mental damage), that's where the "seduction" comes in.

  • 1
    Also, 夭 is not the same with 天. 天 means sky, but 夭 refers to young plants with an extended meaning of "die young" (夭折) Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 7:05

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