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馬上 can be used as an adverb that roughly means "at once" or "immediately", for instance in: 我馬上來幫你. It can also mean "on horseback". Where does the usage with the sense of "at once" originate from, and does it have anything to do with the other meaning of the adverb?

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    The way I make sense of it (not the real origin) is 'on the horse' = 'in transit (arriving soon)' as opposed to 'still being prepared for shipping' :) – NS.X. Jan 31 '14 at 21:18
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According to "互动百科", it's said that during China's ancient times, a general on horseback was on its way to perform an important task, but he was interrupted midtrip when a messenger caught up to him bringing him a message, which stated that the emperor was deathly ill. He immediately turned around and rode back to see the emperor without alighting from his horse (note: riding in the Forbidden City was strictly forbidden), hence the word "马上" to mean "immediately".

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    This answer is used on many Chinese sites asking this question. Another explanation I saw is simply that travel by horseback was the fastest method to get around so 马上 (on horseback) was used to mean doing something ASAP. – amateur Feb 1 '14 at 9:46
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馬上, which literally means "on horseback," basically means, "as fast as you can" (in the pre-automobile era).

An equivalent (military) expression in English would be "on the double" (speed).

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My wild guess would be that it came from some "mount up!" command, which was always in a hurry 8)

  • I have a feeling something of the sort might be the case as well. Would you by any chance have some references for this? – user3410 Jan 31 '14 at 8:50
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The Chinese or Mandarin as we know now is a Northern language results from generations of invasions (the major one is Mongolia invasion) and trading. 马上 as the meaning of immediate or at once are influence from the northern culture where horse is the way of transportation and carrying message to somewhere else. In more traditional or ancient Chinese, 立刻 or 即刻 (meaning at this moment, immediately) are used. In fact in Cantonese, if you use 马上,people would likely think that you are not Cantonese or your language root is not Cantonese, and 即刻 is still use till this days in most of Cantonese verbal conversation than 马上.

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in ancient times,people thought the fastest moving way is ride horse.so 马上 means the ASAP

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