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淘's semantic compound is 氵 (“water”). But how does "water" relate to "naughty; mischievous"?

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Above is Yellowbridge. Below is CUHK.

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淘 has the meaning of wash

'washing' is related to water

The action of washing is rapid and energetic

淘氣 (mischievous) is mostly used to describe an unruly child and we identify a child as unruly when that child doesn't seem to be able to sit still for a second

淘 itself doesn't contain the meaning of naughty; mischievous

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  • I think "淘" can contain the meaning of naughty now. See my answer. – T-Pioneer May 23 at 4:58
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"淘气" was not a Mandarin word at first. It is from dialect.

①耗费:~神。②<方>顽皮。

-Modern Chinese Dictionary, 2nd Edition, The Commercial Press, 1983, Beijing

《现代汉语词典》(第2版)

Some dialect word appeared a long time ago. Some of them use words that are not common in today's Mandarin. Probably when "淘气" appeared, it was not written like this. But, because there is not a dictionary for the dialect or people always write it wrongly, the original form of it disappeared, and then it became "淘气". If so, 氵has nothing to do with "naughty". We need to do lots of research to find out its etymology.

俗語詞用字多為借音,口耳相傳。一旦與其本字睽違日久,常人便不能識其本來面貌,這是很正常的事情,所以説,考本字,音为第一大要。

@下河佬's answer on Zhihu

I live in a city in Jiangsu province called Yangzhou. In the Yangzhou dialect, the situation is similar. For example, the word "掯(kèn)" means "to hold down", but most people cannot write it, so they use pinyin or words that sound similar. Also, "小气" was "小器" at first, meaning "器量狭小".

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