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混沌 and 葫蘆 are 聯綿詞/連綿詞. They are disyllabic words that the characters are only used to record the sound.

混沌 is originally 天地未開闢以前之元氣狀態 (the chaos before the sky and the earth were separated), and also extended to mean confused. In 《聯綿詞組叢考》, the word family of 混沌 includes 餛飩、糊塗、荒唐、崆峒、倥侗、汪洋、渾淪、鶻淪、昆侖 etc. They are all s0emantically and phonetically related.

葫蘆 is also related to the genesis myth. 闻一多 thinks 伏羲、女媧 (sort of the Chinese Adam and Eve) are phonetically related to 葫蘆. I also found newspaper saying 盤古 (the mythic figure who separated Sky and Earth) is etymologically 葫蘆. Some regional (Han and also other ethnic groups) myths also have it that people escape the Great Flood in 葫蘆. I don't know how credible these views are.

However, I haven't read anything that put 葫蘆 in the word family of 混沌 except for a Yi language (彝語) book. It that says that 葫蘆 is a symbolic for 宇宙混沌 (I couldn't find this mythic view in Han mythology), and that the Chinese words 葫蘆 and 混沌 have the same phonetic and semantic origin (reason is not given). The Yi version of 宇宙、葫蘆、囫圇 are clear semantically, phonetically and graphically related. The Yi and Chinese languages are closely related.

Are 混沌 and 葫蘆 are semantically and phonetically related? Is there any other evidence for or against it?


UPDATE

Inspired by the comments, I found the following.

Many ethnic groups in China, e.g. 彝、拉祜、哈尼、佤, have genesis myths connecting to 葫蘆, but not the Han people, possibly except for the name of 伏羲,女娲 and 盘古. I need to read more about it.

In Han legends, 孟姜女 was born in 葫蘆. It's made up by I-don't-know-who. Linguistically it's incorrect since 孟 means the eldest child, but in the legend 孟 and 姜 refer to two families.

According to the Baidu page, 端午節掛葫蘆 came from 呂洞賓, but he's said to be fro AD 798-880. It's too late for genesis myths. However, 葫蘆 is indeed somewhat sacred in Taoism. There are a lot of 法器 (magic weapon) that are made from 葫蘆.

Another implication of 葫蘆 in Han culture is 多子多福, because 葫蘆 has many seeds. This is similar to 石榴 (pomegranate). 葫蘆 is also phonetically similar to 葫蘆. But this is likely an coincidence since 福、祿 are two words and 葫蘆 was also called 瓠/匏 in ancient times.

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  • 有很多关于葫芦神话故事,也有很多以葫芦为主题的文字作品,see baike.baidu.com/item/%E8%91%AB%E8%8A%A6%E8%97%A4/17269971 (just ignore the first section, jump to "基本信息")
    – imkzh
    Feb 22 at 2:45
  • What is the Yi language? Are you referring to 彝语?
    – Betty
    Feb 22 at 2:46
  • @Betty, yes I mean 彝语
    – lilysirius
    Feb 22 at 2:55
  • @imkzh I read the page. The info cannot be used to support the connection of 葫芦 to 混沌. All the quoted myths are not from the Han people. As for 葫芦 being a symbol of ancestors, it's not connected to 混沌, but as a plant 葫芦 has many seeds. The connection to 孟姜女、端午、合卺 is very late.
    – lilysirius
    Feb 22 at 2:59

1 Answer 1

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Is it safe to conclude ...

No, it is not safe. These are just speculations. Some people (including some scholars) believe them, and they may be quite plausible, but I think the current evidence is not enough to make any definitive conclusion.

There are many theories floating around and many of them are speculations based on speculations. That's the main problem I'm trying to point out.

葫蘆 is probably 联绵词. Just for reference, 葫 originally meant garlic. Garlic came from 胡地, hence its name.

enter image description here enter image description here

葫蘆 used to be written as 壺蘆. 壺 is a pot or kettle, which a 葫芦 resembles. 蘆 is a name for turnip and reed.

葫蘆 was called 瓠 or 匏 about 2000 years ago (in 诗经).

Then you have to establish the connection between 瓠/匏 and 葫蘆. Where did the second syllable come from? There are some theories, but there are so many steps in between. One can explain each step with a theory that has x% probability, and if there are too many steps, the summed-up probability is very slow, maybe no better than mere chance.

In short, one can't use today's names and pronunciations to deduce what they were at the beginning of civilization.

BTW: The original shape of 壺 is clearly potter/bronze ware, not a plant, though the meaning could be related.

enter image description here enter image description here

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  • My bad. It's a terrible choice of word. I only meant to ask whether the current evidence is in favor of or against their connection.
    – lilysirius
    Feb 22 at 3:01
  • @lilysirius I think the current evidence is not enough to make any definitive conclusion. All these are very intriguing, but one should be careful not to fall into the trap of 民科.
    – Betty
    Feb 22 at 3:20
  • You miss the fact that 葫蘆 is a 聯綿詞. How it is written is not meaningful, and that's why there are many different written forms. The two syllables together is a morpheme. They cannot be analyzed separately. I don't know enough about OC, but I read it somewhere 瓠/匏 are semantically and phonetically connected with 葫蘆. Also the glyph 壺 actually mimics 葫蘆, not the other way round. In ancient times, 葫蘆 is used to as a pot or kettle.
    – lilysirius
    Feb 22 at 3:43
  • I forgot where I read them. Still trying to find it. But, in the exact same passage you quoted from the dictionary, it says "从形音义各方面考察可知,器物的“壶”仿自植物果实“葫芦”之形,音﹑义因之 "
    – lilysirius
    Feb 22 at 4:01
  • 2
    even 葫蘆 is a 聯綿詞, doesn't mean explaining the two characters in 葫蘆 separately is useless.
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 22 at 4:58

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