I don't understand how 隹 relates to definitions A-C below.

Definition A.1. Are short-tailed birds standard in China? I'm no ornithologist.

Definition A.2. Again, I don't deal with birds. I'm indifferent to them. Short-tailed birds don't look elegant to me. Did the Chinese think they are elegant?

Definition C. Are short-tailed birds unusual in China?

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Above is Yellowbridge. Below is Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 857.

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The most common meaning given to 雅 is "elegant". I don't know how and why 牙 (teeth) was added to 隹 (short-tailed bird) to form the word but can relate the "short-tailed bird to "elegant".

Most of the Chinese are familiar with two of the short-tailed birds that populated the wild in China - "Crow (烏鴉)" and "Martin (燕子)". The Crow is not really a likable bird, but the Martins are loved by almost everybody. If you are familiar with Chinese literature, there is definitely no shortage of mentionings.

Note that 雅 implies "small", such as "雅緻", "雅舍", which fits the body size of a Martin.

Below are few photos of the "Purple/Blue Martin":

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雅 and 鸦 are most likely the same in olden times with 雅 being the variant form for 鸦 meaning crow. It's current meanings are probably borrowed when 鸦 became the standard character for crow, and all the current meanings for 雅 no longer have anything to do with birds.


  • I don't think you answered my question. "all the current meanings for 雅 no longer have anything to do with birds" . I know. But what happened? Why's 隹 the Semantic Component for 雅? Can you expound the semantic shift please?
    – Coosf
    Apr 11 at 20:45
  • Languages and definitions evolve over time. 雅 is simply a phonetic loan character for 'standard' or 'elegance'. Not all meaning shifts can be reasonably explained. Many other characters with meaning shifts have no link to their original semantic component. 难/難 is another character with nothing to do with birds, just that the meaning shifted over time.
    – Fishuman
    Apr 12 at 4:34

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