The word 鬻 (yù) appears to originate as a joint pictogram from:

  • 粥 depicting the rice and two whirls of steam on the sides
  • 鬲 (pronounced lì?) a cooking vessel

Later 粥 alone came in use to express the original meaning (congee), and 鬻 became a loan for "to sell". The loan is reported in the Zhuangzi 庄子.

However I've always known that the actual meaning of this word is "to sell poetry for a living", which is basically the translation of the idiom 鬻文为生. This idiom is also the only sentence where I ever heard the character 鬻 (heard, yes, I actually heard someone uttering this). The dictionaries I checked report only 卖 as a synonym, and other usages consistent with "selling", but the offered examples all gravitate toward "selling art" as 鬻画, 鬻哥 where it looks like a separable verb.

Given the highly specific collocations, I wonder if there is a story behind the etymology of the word, e.g. the same way there is a story behind a chengyu like 画蛇添足。I couldn't find any so far.

  • 2
    The more famous idiom is 賣官鬻爵, meaning "sell government officer positions and noble titles" (a form of corruption). You can find countless examples in history and this idiom might even usable in modern days – Tang Ho May 8 at 22:58
  • Archaic characters like 鬻 are no longer used alone in modern Chinese, 鬻's only usage is being a part of some idiom, much like 黷(wantonly engage in) has no role in modern Chinese besides being a part of the idiom 窮兵黷武. – Tang Ho May 8 at 23:06
  • Have you consulted 漢典? It contains many more examples. – joehua May 9 at 0:31
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    鬻 is a phonetic loan for 𧸇, if you want to trace the word etymology look at uses of 𧸇 instead. The glyph origin doesn’t have anything to do with sell; it is strictly only relevant to congee (and the description given on most sites looks backwards, 粥 appeared before 鬻). – dROOOze May 9 at 0:58
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    U+27E07 zdic.net/hant/%F0%A7%B8%87 – dROOOze May 9 at 9:30

You'd better refer to these links: https://www.zhihu.com/question/20010669/answer/26173785




  1. The word {congee} was first denoted by ⿱(⿲弓毓弓)鬲 (here 毓 denotes its pronunciation and 䰜 stands for cooking utensils) and later the character developed into 鬻(鬻≠粥+鬲,鬻=米+䰜). Finally it was simplified to 粥.

  2. Both 粥 and 鬻 could be used to denote the word {sell}. As dROOOze pointed out, this use is nothing but a phonetic loan for 𧸇. 𧸇 stills exists as a phonetic complement in many characters like 續贖讀櫝 (its glyph form becomes resembling 賣mài but they are etymologically unrelated).

As the history developed the usage of 鬻 to mean {sell} was fixed and 粥 became only used to mean {congee}.

  1. The use of 鬻 to mean {sell} is seen as traditional Chinese today and hence only appears in idiomatic uses.

Examples in ancient Chinese:

楚人有鬻楯與矛者。 There was a person in Chu state who was selling shields and lances.

我世世為洴澼絖,不過數金;今一朝而鬻技百金,請與之。We have been bleaching cocoon-silk for generations, and have only gained a little money. Now in one morning (=at once, immediately) we can sell [to this man] our art (the way to make a salve which kept the hands from getting chapped) for a hundred ounces - let me give (sell the art) to him(=let him have it).

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