1. I don't understand how horses (馬) appertain to deceiving and swindling (騙). I'm uneducated on horses. Is there evidence that horses swindle humans or other horses?

  2. And I don't understand how the meanings underlined in red below (leap into a saddle, mount a horse) to deceiving and swindling either.

enter image description here

Above is Yellowbridge. Below is Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 553.

enter image description here

2 Answers 2

  1. A word on rebus (假借): assume I were to create an emoji writing system for English. I don't exactly have an emoji for the verb 'to leave'; but what if I use a pre-existing emoji 🌿 'leaf' to represent the meaning 'to leave' instead, based on their similarity in pronunciation? Now we can't possibly link the meaning of 'leaf' to 'to leave' (much like how you tried to link 'horse' to 'to deceive'); they are only linked phonetically. That is the concept of rebus.

Put simply,

  1. meaning 'to leap into the saddle; to mount a horse' is a phono-semantic compound (形聲). The phonetic component is and the semantic component (an action truly related to horse) is . We rarely use this meaning anymore in modern Chinese.

  2. meaning 'to deceive' is however rebus (假借). The form is used to represent a perhaps originally formless character meaning 'to deceive' based on their similarity in sound. The original meaning of however is gradually replaced overtime (which nullifies the semantic relevance of ).

    Some scholars (e.g. 王力) are of the belief that the character for 'to deceive' should have been instead, which makes the semantic component () more relevant to its meaning. But Baxter-Sagart (2014) treats and as distinct characters when reconstructing their Old Chinese pronunciations:

    騙 piàn < phjienH < *phen(ʔ)-s ‘to fool, to cheat’; VN phỉnh [fiŋ C1] ‘coax’ (p.104)
    諞 biàn < bjienX < *[m-ph]e[r]ʔ ‘insincere words’ (p. 278)
    諞 pián < bjien < *[m-ph]e[r] ‘insincere words’ (p. 278)

    so the interchangeability between and is not well agreed upon.

  3. Also consider 'ball': why does it have the semantic component ('jade') at all? It's rebus again, and it has been noted that and ( 'feather' being the semantic component) were probably interchangeable.


Baxter, William H., and Sagart, Laurent. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, 2014.


馬(horse) is related to 戲(play/ perform)

戲 is related to 假; 扮 (fake; pretend)

假; 扮 is related to 騙 (trick)

In ancient times, children would hold a stick between their legs to pretend to ride a horse, the idiom 青梅竹馬 illustrated it graphically, it is similar to what the performers did in Chinese opera. The opera couldn't use real horses on stage, so they used a horizontally held stick to represent a horse's back and using another stick as a horsewhip to express 'horse riding' and that's where the idiom 扮鬼扮馬 came from

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.