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木柵 = Wooden Fence

欄 = Fence

柵欄 = Fence Fence

So obviously 柵欄 means fence, but if you break it down word by word it's fence fence, which makes no sense to me.

Another example I can think of is 繩索, which again is rope rope, whereas 鐵索 is metal rope and 繩子 is just a rope.

Can somebody explain this phenomenon to me. Thanks.

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    There's quite a few of these: 街道, 喜爱, 恐惧, 疼痛, 聚集, 安静, etc. And there's a bunch of 2-character words whose characters are basically only used in one word 匍匐, 葡萄, 蝙蝠, 麒麟. In fact, there's quite a few 2-character words which are made from repeating the same character: 爸爸, 姐姐, 叔叔, etc., 远远, 种种, etc..
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Jul 11 at 0:35

2 Answers 2

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Using two characters that have similar meanings to create a compound word is a common practice

Most characters contain multiple meanings. That makes them non-specific when used alone.

  • 柵 can mean 'rail, bar, fence, lattice, or gate

  • 欄 can mean 'column, fence, hurdle, or cote

  • 柵欄 can only mean 'fence'

Both 繩 and 索 can be a verb or a noun, but together, it can only be a noun for rope

More examples:

關 = close, gate, turn off, imprison, related

閉 = close, obstruct

關閉 = close

光 = bright, light, bare, only, empty

明 = bright, understand, openly, next

光明 = bright

A compound has one meaning, not two same meanings.

柵欄 (fence) is not 'fence, fence'

繩索 (rope) is not 'rope, rope'

Some reference

They are called 同义复词 (synonym compounds).

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  • Quote:- ..."intentionally pick only the overlapped meaning between them" If not how else could OP justify saying, "...which makes no sense to me"? Commented Jul 9 at 11:21
  • I meant a compound has one meaning, not two same meanings. The two same meanings should merge into one
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 9 at 11:25
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So obviously 柵欄 means fence, but if you break it down word by word it's fence fence, which makes no sense to me.

Probably, 栅栏 was originally meant to indicate some kind of fencing with a handrail on top, which meaning has got lost in the inaccurate mists of time.

栅栏: 用竹、木、铁条等做成的阻拦物 (another double-up: 阻拦: impede impede)
Fence: an obstruction made of bamboo, wood, or iron.

栅,编竖木也。——《说文》
栅: woven vertical wood——《说文》

栏: 由扶手和支柱构成的栅杆护围 [railing]
栏: (a) from handrail and pillars forming fence poles protective surrounding (a protective surrounding made from a handrail and fence poles)

栏,木栏也,谓阶际木句栏。——《玉篇》
栏,wooden fence, namely wooden poles at stepped intervals

句栏: 栏干: fencepole

So it seems, a long time ago a wooden lattice was a 栅, probably not so stable without 句栏.

To manufacture a balustrade, you use baluster, fencepoles, and put a railing on top.

baluster: also balluster, "support for a railing" (commonly one that swells outward at some point)

English does not commonly double nouns, but other words may be double for intensity, which makes sense to me:

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
A long long time ago

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