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I'm studying CCTV news with my Chinese teacher, where I encountered the word 斡旋 for the first time:

CC-CEDICT: 斡旋 (wò​xuán​) to mediate (a conflict etc)

CC-CEDICT: 斡 (wò​) to turn
CC-CEDICT: 旋 (​xuán​) to revolve / a loop / a circle

I'm familiar with words containing 旋, like 盘旋 = "to spiral" and 旋涡 = "whirlpool". My 现代汉语词典 dictionary suggests 斡 is largely only used in the word 斡旋. I didn't find anything useful on Dong Chinese aside from 斡 being a rather rare character.

I'm fairly sure I'll forget this word in about 10 minutes time. In any case, it'd help me remember if I understood the underlying logic: currently it doesn't seem to make much sense "to turn" + "to revolve" = "to mediate".

Question: How does 斡旋 mean "to mediate"?

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  • When I was a kid, I often heard the term "中東挖船" or "從中挖船" on news and thought 挖船 must be a transliteration of "rush" and "rush" must contain the meaning of "mediate". Thanks to this post, now I finally realize it was 中東斡旋 (The Middle East mediation) not "中東挖船" (ship digging in the Middle East) and it is "從中斡旋" (mediate in-between) not "從中挖船"(digging ship in-between)
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 13:07
  • Nowadays the term 斡旋 is rarely used on news, the common term for "mediate" now is 調停
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 13:22
  • I think the most appropriate translation for 斡旋 is "circle around" or "navigate". It's basically the same as 周旋 which means keeping distance from all participants and trying to keep a balance between you and the whole system. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 9:32

2 Answers 2

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The subject to be "mediated" is naturally "conflict"

To turn and revolve around (the conflicted parties) = to mediate (the conflict)

Example:

为中美贸易冲突斡旋 - Mediating the US-China trade conflict

The mediator has to go back and forth between the Chinese and the American government to Mediate the conflict

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Nowadays this is a rather official word used in situations between two countries. Actually, it is rarely used. People using it may just show that they were well educated. Anyway, I think it's OK that you just forget it.

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