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What is the difference between 灿烂 and 精彩 ? Both, at some point, mean – splendid/marvelous. There should be some difference for sure since these 2 words look so dramatically different. Continuing the “splendid theme” - 灿烂 = 灿 means bright + 烂 means rotten, how is it possible that combining together these 2 adjectives bright+rotten might end up with “splendid” – is there any reasonable explanation ?

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  • Just a side note that assuming words must be super different just because is not so good. For example risky and dangerous are genuinely very different words, but the meanings are often completely interchangeable. lead and lead are written the exact same way but ones a metal and ones an act... a third is a rope. Not saying anything wrong with your question, just a side thought for learning as a whole (◐‿◑)
    – zagrycha
    Jan 12 at 6:40

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烂 means rotten

The basic meaning of 烂(爛) is "火熟也", to burn or boil something so that it becomes cooked. Today we still use this basic meaning as in 肉煮得很烂.

Since cooked meat is soft and easy to breakdown, 烂 has a derived meaning 凡淹久不坚皆曰烂 (submerging an object in water for long such that it no longer has its rigidity is called 烂). This sense is what we today call "rotten".

Since cooking involves burning fire, 烂 has a second derived meaning of "bright like fire". 《楚辞 九歌 云中君》: 灵连蜷兮既留,昭昭兮未央。《诗经 郑风 女曰鸡鸣》: 子兴视夜,明星有。 This sense is not used in isolation today but preserved in many two-syllable words as in 灿烂, 绚烂.

Regarding the difference between 灿烂 and 精彩. 精彩 is usually used on events and artistic objects which people can directly enjoy. 精彩的照片、故事、动画、电影、作品 (artistic objects), 精彩的节目、瞬间、表演、活动、游戏、盛况 (events which people can enjoy).

灿烂 is usually used to describe

  • Bright in the literal sense, as in 灿烂的光芒、霞光、黎明
  • Something that is "bright" in the metaphoric sense, important in history, as in 灿烂的文明、文化、艺术、世界遗产、人生(一生)
  • A high point of something, as in the experssions 添上灿烂的一笔, 谱写灿烂的一章, etc.
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  1. 灿烂 has a difference with 精彩.

    灿烂's original meaning is just like "bright" and "beautiful" or that kind, which is linked with appearance (e.g. 他的笑容很灿烂 = His smile is bright). It can also use to describe "splendid" or "marvelous" as “精彩”.

    精彩 is used to describe "splendid" or "extraordinary", it is more similar to "good", and it is used to describe “表演、展览、言论、文章等”(shows, exhibition, speech, article, etc.) (Sadly that's from 百度百科, but it is same with my daily experience, and 现代汉语词典's explanation is too ) so there is some circumstances, in which you can't use 精彩 to describe its splendor. For example, 精彩的古代文明 seems strange, a more suitable form is “灿烂的古代文明”。

  2. ” doesn't only mean "rotten", it could means "bright, radiant"(e.g. 烂漫的烟火 = radiant firework)

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They make no differences in literal. They only distinguish on what objects they are used to discribe. It may take much effort to remember these fixed collocations.

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