I am going through the word 奇. Mandarin Temple had mentioned, learning hint as “a person riding a horse”. Is this only learning hint? Or is it also etymologically correct? What is the exact etymology of 奇?

For "strange", can I use 奇, or is it obsolete? Must I use 奇怪 instead?

  • Well, if you're that curious about etymology... here's this: fantiz5.com/ziyuan Just input the character into the search bar and press enter. It'll tell you about the character's etymology (not the best resource, but it's good enough for the average person). Very simple. No need to have a long-winded discussion about it.
    – njnjnjn
    Apr 25, 2021 at 21:17
  • That website looks awful. It’s always the “not the best, but good enough” resources that create more confusion; might as well not have used it in the first place.
    – dROOOze
    Apr 25, 2021 at 22:41
  • i tried to open this in chrome browser, the character was explained in Chinese as image, so it could not convert the image to english. i could not read and understand all chinese now. not much useful
    – user27485
    Apr 26, 2021 at 10:18

3 Answers 3


「奇」 is not a person riding a horse - that is probably a learning mnemonic, meant to remind you of the word 「騎」. This character has received some attention in the question What is the glyph origin of '奇'?.

「怪」 (Zhengzhang OC: /*kruːds/, strange) is comprised of semantic 「心・忄」 (heart, mind) and phonetic 「圣」(/*kʰuːd/).

「圣」 (Mandarin Pinyin: , to dig) is comprised of semantic 「又」 (picture of a hand) and semantic 「土」 (picture of a lump of dirt).

「圣」 is rarely seen in the orthodox character system. However, you may see the identical shape 「圣」 in unorthodox systems representing completely different words or components, such as Simplified Chinese (where it is used as an abbreviation of 「聖」) and Japanese Shinjitai (where it is used as an abbreviation of 「巠」).

As usual, these abbreviations do not have anything to do with the language.

You shouldn't use 「奇」 by itself if you want to say strange; this is because 「奇」 forms the roots of several words which don't necessarily mean strange, but related yet different words like wonderful (奇妙), mysterious; magical (神奇), and rare (奇特).

  • 1
    In lieu of writing my own answer: You can however use「怪」by itself; 好怪哦/真怪啊, etc. - but be careful how you exactly use it because it could also mean "to blame."
    – Mou某
    Apr 21, 2021 at 14:49
  • This explanation clarifies the sub character dig as well. but you mentioned that these abbreviations have nothing to with language? what that means?“””「圣」 (Mandarin Pinyin: kū, to dig) is comprised of semantic 「又」 (picture of a hand) and semantic 「土」 (picture of a lump of dirt).”””
    – user27485
    Apr 21, 2021 at 23:34
  • I think you need to dig into the old literature to find the meaning and use of 圣. It is just a "偏旁" of words.
    – r13
    Apr 22, 2021 at 0:18
  • 1
    圣 is now used as simplified version in PRC of 聖 which means "saint or holy". The meaning of 怪 has no link to 圣 in the context of 聖
    – Fishuman
    Apr 22, 2021 at 2:25
  • Just want to say that I still use 太奇了 when situation warrants.
    – joehua
    Apr 22, 2021 at 9:09

Tl;dr: Isolated use is largely impermissible (points 3. and 4.), because they are classical Chinese. Evidence for which is outlined in point 2.

  1. With other excellent answers detailing the glyph origin of and , I shall adopt another approach at your question.

On 奇怪 as a compound word

  1. Compound words (複合詞) are rarer in classical than modern Chinese, but for 奇怪, plenty of examples in classical Chinese could be found (see here). The following example is from Shiji:


    Hongyao and others were worried (about Count of the West's imprisonment). They then procured beauties from the Youshen clan, bright horses from Lirong, and thirty-six horses from Youxiong, together with other (equally) peculiar items, and offered them to King Zhou through Fei Zhong. King Zhou was extremely pleased . . .

    This tells us 奇怪 is not a recent invention. They were placed next to each other for their similarity in meaning (近義並列). Other examples traceable to classical Chinese include: 幼弱, 審察.1

On isolated use of and in modern Chinese

  1. Because of its classical nature, isolated use of in modern Chinese is almost nonexistent, but not impossible. You may still find it in idioms, e.g. 嘖嘖稱奇.

  2. The same goes for (consider the idiom 少見多怪). However, more often than not you will see it on its own as a verb that means 'to blame'. That is to say, there are two senses in modern Chinese: the 奇怪;怪異;怪誕 kind (meaning strange), and the 責怪;怪罪;怪+sb. kind (meaning to blame).


1 劉承慧(2003)〈古漢語實詞的複合化〉,於《古今通塞:漢語的歷史發展》,中央研究院語言學研究所籌備處,p107–139。


奇 is a controversial one. There are sites that say it is a person on a horse being original form of 骑, but there are no old glyphs with the horse character in the ancient script.

Easiest interpretation would be large 大 and gasping 可 (mouth + breath). A person is gasping in awe at a large peculiar object. 可 can also double as phonetic, although they both don't really sound alike.

怪 is combination of heart 心 and 圣, which is a hand holding a lump of clay. This is probably an ancient form of 块 (which had another old variant form 凷). Most likely just a phonetic component, but you could think of it as an unpleasant feeling like having a lump in your throat or heart.

奇 is more neutral sounding, meaning strange but not necessarily in a bad way. It can even be used positively, being something wonderful or remarkable, like 奇迹 miracle. It is almost never used alone, possibly because it has many other homophones/similar sounding characters.

怪 sounds like ghost 鬼 and is almost always used in a negative tone. For example, monster 怪物, blame 责怪 (责 is often omitted if used in this sense), and a vulgar slang dialectal term 怪𡳞 which means annoying. 怪 can be used alone for blame or strange as it doesn't have as many common homophones.

  • This explanation stick to my mind””” large 大 and gasping 可 (mouth + breath). A person is gasping in awe at a large peculiar object.”””
    – user27485
    Apr 21, 2021 at 23:35

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