When I was young, I read Traditional Chinese Reader's Digest. I noticed that the translation of husband is 外子. That's the first time I noticed this usage.

Anyone has any clue about why this is being used? Could it have come from another language? Or is it archaic usage?

  • I was just about to ask this exact same question!
    – Mou某
    Jun 3, 2015 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


外子 an archaic term, parallel to calling one's wife 内子. It was very common in Song dynasty(between 960 and 1279). Regarding its origins, the third volume of 《恒言录》 written by 钱大昕, a famous scholar in Qing dynasty(1636-1912), gives the following origin for 外子: "in Liang dynasty, a country during Southern and Northern Dynasties of China(420 - 589), the poet XuFei wrote a poem called “赠内诗" and his wife wrote a poem called "答外诗," and that's the origin of 外子 and 内子. By the way, 内子 and 外子 can only be used by a couple to refer to each other, meaning that you can call your husband 外子 or your wife 内子, but you never can call another women's husband 外子 or another man's wife 内子. Lastly, what I want to say is that now we never say 外子 and 内子 in Chinese-speaking countries, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

  • I appreciate user238264 fixing my grammar mistakes.
    – user3686
    Dec 20, 2013 at 6:00
  • I am really sorry that I made a common mistake of history!Actually,liang dynasty is a country during Southern and Northern Dynasties of China(420 - 589) ,which is founded and first ruled by XiaoYan.I am grateful for congusbongus's help.
    – user3686
    Dec 20, 2013 at 9:35

Although this would not strictly categorize as an answer since I didn't track down the exact source, referring to the wife as 內人 is still commonly used in written script. It probably (which I didn't track down the exact source) originated from the old tradition of young men leaving home working as government officials, military men or business people. By contrast, their spouse often stayed at home. And therefore 外 and 內 is referring to whether they stay at home.

  • 1
    《辞源》 gives what you have said as the explanation
    – user238264
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:38
  • 萌典 still has no origin.
    – james sa
    Dec 18, 2013 at 7:43

Old usage, exactly just from the First Person. Simply means the only important one who always work outside. so '外子' is husband. Another word '内人' means wife, also old usage.

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