So I just learned a new vocabulary called 嫩. An example from a YouTube channel was given as 这块儿牛肉非常嫩 to mean “This piece of beef is very tender”.

As I understand many Chinese characters can come from combining more than one individual character. So in the 嫩, does the 女 on the left have anything to do with 女 gender at all?

  • 1
    yeah, in the olden times Chinese considered women are soft and tender and men are hard and tough
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 12, 2022 at 22:29
  • 2
    Be careful when using this word. Though it means tenderness, softness, delicate, it is meant to be used on "things", like your example "beef", and not on humans. Do not say that a female is 嫩 because it has sexual connotations, meaning she is "tender" to the touch. Feb 13, 2022 at 3:26
  • 1
    嫩 is used as a code for 'young' or 'inexperience'
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 13, 2022 at 3:29
  • @TangHo Wow, good to know!
    – EmilyJ
    Feb 13, 2022 at 17:37
  • @WayneCheah, ha ha no, I will not attempt to!
    – EmilyJ
    Feb 13, 2022 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


In short, the answer is yes. 女 is a semantic component women.

We haven't found this glyph in oracle bone script or bronze inscriptions; the earliest is in the Small Seal Script. It was originally written as 媆. It's both ideogrammic and phono-semantic. The semantic components are 女、耎, and 耎 gives the sound. 耎 is again both ideogrammic and phono-semantic. The semantic components are 而、大, and 而 gives the sound.

As semantic components, in general, 女 refers to women, 而 refers to beard, and 大 refers to person/human. 耎 means 0) with very very long beard. It's extended to mean 1) front-end slightly larger than the other end and 2) tender. However, meanings 0) and 1) are rarely used. Meaning 2) is also written as 媆, which strengthens the meaning with women, who are characterized as tender.

媆, writing as 女而大 and undergoing some catachresis (訛變), finally became 嫩.

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