If I had to guess the Semantic Component for abalone, I would've guessed 虫. Why? Because

  1. abalones look more like insects, don't look like fish.

  2. Taxonomically they belong to the Subclass Vetigastropoda to which 海螺 are classified. If 螺 uses 虫 as its semantic component, and 海螺 and 鰒 belong to the same Subclass, logically 海螺 and 鰒 should share the same semantic component! But I know that the Chinese probably coined 鰒, before Carl Linnaeus commenced taxonomy around 1935?

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Above is Yellowbridge. Below is Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 229.

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  • 1
    Note that 鰒 is not the main way that culinary species of Haliotidae are referred to in modern Mandarin Chinese; 鮑魚 is way more common now. There are many other topolectal names e.g. 海耳, or Min Nan 九孔螺 which has as its type species Haliotis diversicolor.
    – Michaelyus
    Jun 8 at 7:38
  • Another possibility is that the people who invented the character had only encountered cooked abalone meat and thought it tasted like fish. Literacy was historically confined to upper classes. Something similar may have happened with 鱉/鼈/龞.
    – gnucchi
    Jun 18 at 15:53

But I know that the Chinese probably coined 鰒, before Carl Linnaeus commenced taxonomy around *1735?

I think you've answered the question yourself: word creation is not necessarily scientific / taxonomical. Misnomers are common in not just Chinese but languages in general.

Is peanut really a nut? Is Facebook really a book? Is digital darkroom really a darkroom? We know they're not, yet we understand why they are so named. The same applies to having as its semantic component. These are all metaphorical extensions and they shouldn't be understood too literally.

There are also the concepts 'extension of meaning' (詞義擴大) and 'shrinkage of meaning' (詞義縮小) in Chinese. You may think the semantic component (meaning 'gold' in modern Chinese) in ('silver') suggests the Chinese used to think silver is gold, but that's hardly the case. had a wider semantic definition: 'metal' (e.g. in the word 五金), and frankly this was used in the creation of characters for metallic elements (e.g. 'magnesium', 'actinium') in the periodic table. So one has to be very careful when 'interpreting' the semantic component of a character. It's not always literal.


鮑魚 (abalone) is not a fish, but it lives in the sea.

魚 is a character/ radical commonly used in sea creatures that are not fish

鯨魚,魷魚,墨魚,章魚,甲魚,(Whale, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, turtle) are not fish at all. It was convenient to use 魚 to indicate something was a sea creature

If a compound word for a sea creature has the character 海 in it, then it doesn't need the 魚 radical to indicate it is a sea creature. For example, 海星,海膽,海馬,海牛,海豹 (starfish, sea urchin, seahorse, manatee, seal)

Notice, '海星' in English is 'starfish' which is not a fish at all.

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