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I have lived in China and Taiwan for at least 20 years. I have always known that 慢 means "slow". But I never knew until today — and could never have guessed that — 慢 also means "supercilious"! How are these meanings related? Why does 慢 mean both?

詞類 英文意義
adj. slow; dilatory; supercilious; rude
adv. slowly; gradually
v. treat rudely; postpone; defer

http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=%E6%85%A2

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慢 does have the meanings "supercilious" and "rude", when used with the following words - (慢), (慢), (慢), and (慢).

There are many examples in the old works, such as:

  • 可敬不可。——《礼记·缁衣》

  • 敬贤者存,贤者亡。——《荀子·君子》

  • 管家,实是多了你。——《儒林外史》

https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E6%85%A2

"Supercilious" and "rude" are extended interpretations of 慢, because one's "slowness" in many circumstances can, rightfully or wrongfully, draws negative perceptions from others. For example,

  • you don't promptly respond/react to others in a conversation, you could be criticized as supercilious and rude (目中无人,傲慢无礼).

  • You let customers wait for service too long, you could be criticized as committing an offense by ignoring the customer (怠慢客人).

Hope now you can see the link between the varies meaning of 慢.

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Quote:- "But why? Your post does not appear to answer my question"

It is an intriguing question, i.e., why 慢 also means "supercilious" and "rude". I used to wonder about it myself. This is my speculative answer, and please take it as such.

Why "supercilious", which means "...having or showing arrogant superiority...", and "rude", which means "...socially incorrect in behavior..."?

First, "...having or showing arrogant superiority...", and, "...socially incorrect in behavior..." have certain commonalities of negative human behavior. So, we could perhaps take supercilious and rude together as to why 慢, (slow, unhurried, lackadaisical), also has these seemingly unrelated connotations to "slowness", "sluggishness"?

First, isn't it "rude", or even "supercilious" to do things slowly, lackadaisically, sluggishly (慢慢 or 慢慢来), when some good mannered speed is called for when the circumstances needed it? We have all come across such irritating behavior?

Second, and more interestingly, why is 慢 specifically "rude"?

Perhaps, there is a mix-up with another similar sounding word, 蛮, (Mán), which as a noun, as in 野蛮人, means Barbarians, and as an adjective, 野蛮, "rude", "uncivilized"?

I've heard that there is another mix-up with another similar sounding word 馒, (Mán), as in 馒头, (Mán tou), meaning "steamed buns", and the "mix-up", speculatively, came about as follows:-

The ancient Han people ate 馒头, (steamed buns), which symbolized war victories over the marauding "Barbarians", the 野蛮人, (Yě mán rén), just as the French people ate Croissants, (a crescent-shaped roll), symbolizing war victories over the Muslim Moors who wanted to conquer Western Europe but was stopped before reaching France.

So, we have 3 similar sounding words, 慢, 蛮, 馒 (Màn, Mán, Mán), "slow", "rude", "steamed", to "trip", (meaning "...cause to stumble"), people?

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The secondary meaning of 慢 is simply the primary meaning ("slow") used in a different context. In that context, "slow" is better rendered as "supercilious, etc" as the word "slow" doesn't carry the same connotation in English.

So why are there contexts in Chinese where "slow" connotes superciliousness? It's due to the pragmatics of the language, specifically the way the Chinese language expresses politeness & rudeness.

In Chinese, being polite and willing to follow a command or expectation is strongly associated with the notion of "quick"; for instance, imperative requests have the word "quick" baked into them (eg 快走 = go!). This connotation also resurfaces in compound words (eg 快乐 = ready and willing to appreciate/rejoice >> merry, happy).

On the flip side, being rude and unwilling to follow a command or expectation (ie being supercilious enough to defy/delay it) is associated with taking liberties with someone else's time and hence with the notion of "slow"; for instance, polite requests from an inferior/host to a superior/guest will use the word "slow" to invite them to be as rude as they want and impose themselves for as long as they want (eg 慢走 = take your time leaving, ie please feel free to be rude in the time it takes you to leave). As above, this connotation will follow the word in some of its compounds, too (eg 傲慢 = arrogant).

But, to reiterate, the word 慢 (like 快 and others) does not carry random secondary meanings. These words have one basic meaning plus one or more connotations baked into them through culture and language use. Since the English word "slow" doesn't carry the same cultural associations, it's necessary that translations and definitions give a list of all the English words that correspond to the different connotations of the word.

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  1. The original meanings of 快 in Old Chinese is "pleased". 快 took on the "fast" meaning no later than the Jin Dynasty. Previously it was used only on humans. The shift in meaning is probably caused by a change in the objects 快 modifies.

《世说新语·汰侈》:“彭城王有快牛,至爱惜之。”
《晋书》:“当世快牛称陈世子青,王三郎乌,吕文显折角,江瞿昙白鼻。”

Fast people are not necessarily pleasing, but fast bulls are always satisfactory in field ploughing, wagon pulling and bull racing.

  1. The original meaning of 慢 in Old Chinese is "slack". 慢's meaning "slow" probably came from a phonetic loan (假借) from 䟂.

《说文解字》:“䟂,行迟也。”
《说文解字注》:“䟂,今人通用慢字。”

The loan took place no later than the Tang Dynasty.

《琵琶行》:“轻拢慢捻抹复挑,初为霓裳后绿腰。”
《送贾侍御克复后入京》:“晴云淡初夜,春塘深慢流。”

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  • Whether "fast v slow" aligns with "polite v rude" cannot be proved or disproved by looking at whether it also aligns with "positive v negative". Positivity and negativity are relative concepts: if A does something rude to B, it may be something negative for B but something positive for A. On the other hand, politeness and rudeness are absolute concepts: they refer to compliance and non-compliance respectively. So the fact that fast can be used in a negative sense and slow in a positive sense is irrelevant and context-dependent.
    – Sanchuan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 11:06
  • @Sanchuan Thanks. I've revised my answer.
    – user
    Dec 1, 2022 at 17:57
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    That's all very interesting. Thank you for writing that!
    – Sanchuan
    Dec 1, 2022 at 19:11

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