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CC-CEDICT: 无精打采 (wú​jīng​dǎ​cǎi​) dispirited and downcast (idiom); listless / in low spirits / washed out

I can understand why 无精 is this chengyu; it's basically 没有精神精力. However, I don't see the logic behind 打 and 采.

The above chengyu reportedly originates from 《红楼梦》:

小红待要过去;又不敢过去;只得悄悄向潇湘馆;取了喷壶而回;无精打采;自向房内躺着。
《红楼梦》, c. 1791, quoted from Baidu Baiku

So the relevant Chinese language may have evolved since then.

Question: Why are the characters 打 and 采 in the chengyu 无精打采 (and its variant 没精打采)?

3 Answers 3

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打采 -- 意思是指狎客给妓女的缠头, (it refers to the headdress / headwrap, (缠头), of prostitutes in ancient China)

Please Note -- my interpretation #1:-

Prostitutes, or women in general, ancient or modern, take great care / attention with their hair which ensures good looks or at least presentability. Something of importance and a daily necessity, especially for prostitutes whose good looks were and is her best selling point.

Therefore, 无精打采, would be to refer to someone, say a prostitute, who is so listless and lacking in energy or good mood that she even neglects to do something so important as putting on a nice headdress / make-up.

Interpretation #2:-

打采 could also, following on from #1, refers to an action of a customer of a prostitute. In the old days, rich customers would gift expensive jewelry for the headdress of their favorite "lady"

So, 打采 would refer to the act of the customer putting, (打), the piece of jewelry on the lady's headdress. If the customer becomes so, (无精打采), i.e. listless, and lacking in "mood" or energy that he did not even want to do something so enjoyable as decorating his lady's headdress.

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I disagree with @Wayne Cheah.

If not shortened from classical texts, 成語 is mostly coined with 對仗, which requires both part of speech to be the same, and the meaning to be similar, at least related, or opposite.

In this case, 精 and 采 are nouns and mean the same thing. This is confirmed in 2 chengyu dictionaries I consulted. The meaning 神采,神色,精神 of 采 is also found in dictionaries, though it's only used in compound words now.

According to 對仗, 打 must be a verb here, and would likely have a negative tone. Unfortunately none of the chengyu dictionaries I consulted explains this word. Let me try and give an answer of my own. 打 has the meaning of to remove (e.g. 打麦) or to reduce (e.g. 打扣). Both of them fit here. But given that this word is coined by 曹雪芹 in 《紅樓夢》, this explaining doesn't have the beauty that 曹雪芹 usually embed in his writing.

Intuitively I'm inclined to its original meaning to hit, strike. This meaning widely used for rain in poems, like 身世浮沉雨打萍 and 風流總被雨打風吹去. Something was hit heavily by rain and thus became withered. This is the image that 打 usually associates with in literary language. It's also a similar case here. Something hit my 精神 so that I became 精神less, i.e. 沒精打采. The use of 打 is figurative and vivid.

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From this source: 無精打採形容精神不振;提不起劲头。

  • 打:打消

  • 采:兴致

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