The 道 opens


What does 起 mean at the end of the sentence, "所起的名" or "suǒ qǐ de míng".

Does qǐ mean "to present"? And does "de" turn "to present" into a participle? So "qǐ de" means "presented"? Then the whole phrase, "than that which is [usually] presented"?

  • 2
    Just to keep the record straight. The sentence you mentioned is not from 道德经. It's from an annotation of 道德经.
    – joehua
    Mar 28 at 13:52
  • Of course I'm working with an edition of the text, not the original text. I'm an amateur, I don't have PDF or JPEG of the ancient document and would probably find it difficult to read if I did. Sorry if people were confused and thought I had photos of the paper strips of the ancient manuscript in front of me. (You folks are operating at a much higher level than I am.) What I really care about is that my edition is transcribing the script correctly. Can anyone recommend an edition that is the most faithful transcription of the original characters? You seem to be implying that mine does not.
    – Gerry
    Mar 29 at 22:45
  • I didn't imply anything, just pointing out that the sentence you quoted wasn't the original text but an annotation. However, you're correct that I didn't like the annotation you quoted. I just did a search and found this annotation which I think is better. I'm not an expert in 道德经. It's just my preference. I have always interpret 道可道,非常道 as a conditional sentence in this way: if 道可道, then it is not 常道.
    – joehua
    Mar 30 at 11:24
  • I think maybe I'm confused about the term "annotation". To me that means commentary or footnote. If I understand correctly, you're saying that the quote I have isn't from the original paper strips, that the translator I'm using isn't simply transcribing, but actually editing (rewriting) the original. If you think your version more closely represents the original strips, I will check it out. Thank you for providing it.
    – Gerry
    Mar 31 at 0:53
  • @Gerry The quote you put in the question is a Modern Chinese translation of the original. If this were English, your question is like asking about a vocabulary item or grammar point about a modern English translation of a sentence in Beowulf, as a Modern English learner. There's nothing wrong with this - but just in case you were getting the wrong idea about what you were asking...
    – dROOOze
    Mar 31 at 4:46

3 Answers 3


起 is quite an oral expression, you can understand it as 取 in 取名字. It is not the meaning of "presented". It is similar to naming.

When you name an object or a person, you give them a name, this is 起 refers to.

  • I think I understand. Are you saying that 名 (name) and 起 (to give a name) are often used together? Does 起名字 mean to give a name (to something)? In English, we can say, "to name something," but not sure you can do that with the Chinese noun 名, that I can make it into a verb like the English. Must there always be an accompanying verb?
    – Gerry
    Mar 29 at 22:41
  • Yes, but 起 as a verb also has other meanings. In the context of 起名字,it is exactly what you understood.
    – hnyls2002
    Apr 1 at 2:08
  • Thanks hny, I guess I'm trying to do two things, 1) get a sense of the phrase's meaning and 2) understand Chinese grammar so I can write my own phrases. And Joe has introduced a third fascinating preoccupation, the problem of hermeneutics as it relates to Ancient Chinese texts.
    – Gerry
    Apr 1 at 20:22

I would translate this 起 as "arise".

起: 起身,动起来,采取行动[start]

(You) can utter (the) Dao, but that is not that which is commonly called the Dao.

Names can arise, but that is not how names commonly arise

Dao can speak yeah, not permanent Dao yeah.
Name can name yeah, not permanent Name yeah.
Nameless, (of) everything the beginning yeah.
Have name, (of) everything the mother yeah.
Thus permanent not desire yeah, then see its mystery
permanent have desire, then see its boundaries
both the same, different name same speech
mystery within a mystery, many mysteries (at) that gate

  • Thank you for the comments. This is helpful. I often start translating by literal substitution, knowing that won't be sufficient to render meaning in English, but it's a starting point. 道可以 说. Dào (道) can be (可以) spoken (说), 但不是通常所说的道, but (但) not (不是) usually (通常) that which (所) spoken (说的) dào (道). Crude, yes, but am I getting the gist? Particularly want to make sure I'm using 所 and 的 correctly. If so, then maybe I can apply them correctly in the next phrase.
    – Gerry
    Mar 28 at 22:22
  • In The Diamond Sutra Subuthi says something like: "The Truth neither is nor is not" Such a Truth is not accessible using intellectual logic, which makes it hard to understand, since everything we name is in some sense a something in our intellectual grasp! My favourite quote in this regard is from 慧能: "不是风动, 不是幡动,仁者心动."
    – Pedroski
    Mar 29 at 8:49
  • What I'm getting at is something that might upset people who love the Dàodé jīng. This opening is often translated very mystically when I think it is actually very prosaic. People translate it more mysteriously than it is. It is simply saying that we have an everyday word, 道, which means in everyday usage "road" or "path". Laozi is going to employ the same word, but he doesn't mean a literal road or path. Instead, he is using the term metaphorically. That is all he is saying. We can certainly talk about the metaphorical Dào, and Laozi in fact says and does so.
    – Gerry
    Mar 29 at 22:48
  • I think you have mistaken. Your concept of 道 is modern, not around 500 BCE. Also, this interpretation doesn't make sense in other passages, such as 道生一 Apr 10 at 4:36

起 in this context means "to give" or "to assign".

名可以起﹐但不是通常所起的名. Names can be given to anything including Dao, but the name given to Dao is not the one that is usually given.

Note: The user "Pedroski" might have used the translation app to translate the Chinese words he listed above, which, if not for poking fun, read ridiculous and insensible.

  • Thank you Nanning, this seems the right way yo understand 起. Trying to understand the criticism of Pedroski and Hui Neng. Is it that the English quote doesn't match the Chinese script? I think that the English quote is an interpretation of the meaning of the script, definitely it's not a translation. Now assuming that, it could still be a problematic understanding of what Hui Neng meant by moving winds and flags. Don't know as much about this as you all do. I have a suspicion, only a suspicion, that we tend to overly mystify the meaning , which is not to deny the depth of these texts.
    – Gerry
    Mar 29 at 22:38

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