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输:

  1. transport, convey

  2. contribute money; donate

  3. Lose, be defeated

How did the first two senses give rise to the third?

2 Answers 2

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车 is a wagon, and 俞 is a boat, which had been used to transport stuff since earlier times. 俞 is also phonetic. The original meaning of 输 is to transport using wagons.

The original meaning has extended to mean to transport, thus entry 1.

The ways that Entry 1 extends to Entries 2 and 3 are closely related. Things are transported to the others, which is extended to mean to contribute, to donate. In ancient times, it often refers to paying taxes.

(段玉裁) 输于彼则彼赢而此不足

Things are transported to the others, and then others have many and we don't have enough.

故胜负曰赢输

therefore winning and losing are called 赢 and 输

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  • Is there a way of knowing when these semantic extensions took place? I'm also very interested in understanding the relationship between written and spoken language. Is it likely that the semantic extension took place first in writing and then was extended to speaking? Or is it more likely to be the other way around?
    – Buddy L
    Mar 2 at 14:00
  • @Buddy L I don't know if there's a special dictionary or tool. But you can learn their approximate age from the examples in dictionaries like 《漢語大詞典》《辭源》, where examples are also dated. Usually I can tell the history of the semantic changes after reading the original meaning and examples from other later meanings. The examples are not necessarily the first appearance of the corresponding meanings, but they're representative.
    – lilysirius
    Mar 2 at 21:33
  • @Buddy L Up until last century Chinese is mostly written in the literary form, which is very little changed from the Qin and Han Period. The spoken languages have been evolving on its own. Usually, dominating changes in the spoken languages are selectively incorporated into the literary form. So I'd say it's the other way round.
    – lilysirius
    Mar 2 at 21:35
  • This is also what makes very good sense to me. What is confusing to me is that despite the case being so, so much semantic weight is given to the orthographical record. If new words are created by people speaking, then wouldn't phonology, syntax and morphology be much more significant for tracing meaning than tracing how scholars decided to write the word down once that word found its way into their lexicon?
    – Buddy L
    Mar 3 at 23:36
  • @Buddy L It’s probably because the spoken languages are too diverse, not mutually intelligible. A huge part of them cannot be written down. If linguists dig deeper they might be able to determine the corresponding written characters of some of those words, but it’s impossible for an average literate person. Then it’s impossible for him to use or discuss it with another person from a different region, which doesn’t even have to be far away. What finally get a fixed written form is what makes into the common language. Most of the spoken vocabulary in history are lost.
    – lilysirius
    Mar 4 at 0:34
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输:

  • transport, convey something from one source to another.

  • contribute money; donate something (usually) money to someone.

On a gambling table, you transport your money from your pocket to another person's pocket, an act similar to contributing your wealth or donating your money to someone else for no condition attached. Finally, the money is forever gone because you were defeated and lost the game (输了). :)

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