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Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about the origin and history of Chinese words. Use [glyph-origin] for the origin of characters.

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Do these two characters in a silver inlay on a small tray have a special meaning? (Characters identified: 大吉)

An inlaid silver tray with what is possibly a Buddhist symbol
Pip Schofield's user avatar
2 votes
3 answers
197 views

What is the etymology of 鱷梨, meaning "avocado"?

I've recently come upon the word 鱷梨 (simplified: 鳄梨, pīnyīn: [è lí]), meaning¹ avocado, and am currently looking for its etymology. Wikitionary mentions it being a calque of alligator pear, which ...
Emily's user avatar
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4 votes
2 answers
186 views

鉛 Reading Phonology

Why does this word for Lead 鉛 seem to have two different pronounciations? In most Chinese Languages / Languages that borrowed this word ( Japanese / Korean ) they all read similar to the Middle ...
Sierra Hotel's user avatar
1 vote
2 answers
107 views

What is the etymology behind 角色?

personally it's easier for me to study words/phrases to understand the roots, but I have an interesting word that I can't figure out why it was derived from 角色 Corner and Color... how did that become ...
A O's user avatar
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349 views

why is "象" meaning representation, form, shape etc.?

character early writings is derived from the elephant by I can't find an explanation to why it became also use for this other meaning.
Nora Tjevcoviv's user avatar
1 vote
2 answers
473 views

Why is Chick-fil-A called 達 堡 可 福?

This is the sign on Chick fil-A in Chinatown in Washington, DC. My guess for 可 福 (ke fu) is just that it's approximately phonetic to two sounds in "Chik-Fil-A" and has a pleasant meaning (&...
j03y_'s user avatar
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2 votes
1 answer
122 views

Two etymologies of "天上有地下无"?

The Chinese saying "天上有,地下无" means extremely extraordinary people, which can only be found in heaven (天上有) and not on earth (地下无). Very interesting is the first one of these two etymologies ...
Lerner Zhang's user avatar
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1 answer
138 views

When did 民權 enter the Chinese language?

I read Sun Yatsen‘s claim that 民權 as a noun had entered the Chinese language in the recent past (近代 usually denotes times after the opium war). He adds of course evidence that 孔子 and 孟子 expressed ...
Ludi's user avatar
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3 votes
5 answers
157 views

Why "again" is expressed differently in the present and in the past. (又 and 再)

I've been studying for HSK3 and I was very intrigued in the reason why expressing "again" in different moments has to be done with different characters, I mean, I know their differences and ...
大摩西's user avatar
2 votes
3 answers
452 views

Why did 鲁迅 write 贿路 and not 贿赂 ("bribe")?

如果你遇见有人被冤枉,被诬陷的,即使明知道他是好人,也万不可挺身而出,去给他解释或分辩,否则,你就会被人说是他的亲戚,或得了他的贿路…… If you encounter someone being wronged, even if you know they are a good person, you definitely shouldn't step forward and and ...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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Why is it written 安详 and not 安祥?

CC-CEDICT: 安详 (ān​xiáng​) serene Regarding the above word, my Chinese-Chinese dictionary (现代汉语规范词典 "GF" in Pleco) cautions me 注意:“详”不要误写作“祥” (despite CC-CEDICT including it). While 祥 doesn'...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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1 vote
3 answers
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Is it a coincidence that 吗 and 吧 sound like 妈 and 爸 respectively?

I was thinking about how we end questions with the word 吗 and how, as babies, the first people you ask questions of are mum and dad. I was wondering if there is some connection to the origin of how we ...
Charlotte's user avatar
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船 composed of characters for vessel, 8, and person?

Is 船 (chuán, boat) composed of the characters for vessel, eight, and person? Is this the etymology of 船?
Geremia's user avatar
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1 answer
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How do I memorize Chinese characters that have an original meaning unrelated to their modern meaning?

I've been trying my best to combat this sort of thing recently but I couldn't really find a good way to solve this sort of problem I have when memorizing Chinese characters whose original meaning is ...
prismcool's user avatar
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4 answers
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Who created Chinese Characters? (for facts or historical records)

Who created Chinese Characters? This question is for facts or historical records, not opinions. It may not be created by one person at one time, because if so, why are there so many repeated ...
PdotWang's user avatar
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3 votes
2 answers
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Is 冘 and 何 related in terms of their glyph origin?

I know this might be bizarre but while I was searching up the ancient forms of 冘 (yín/yóu; to move on), I've seem to noticed something on the ancient forms for that character. I've took note that some ...
prismcool's user avatar
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1 vote
2 answers
190 views

Is the Cantonese word 冧巴 a loanword from English?

To my ear, 冧巴 (lam1baa2, meaning "number") sounds a lot like the English word "number". Is this a coincidence, or is this a loanword from English? If it is a loanword, what word ...
T Hummus's user avatar
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4 answers
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What's the logic and etymology behind 未免 = "rather", such as in 未免太贵了?

CC-CEDICT 未免 (wèi miǎn) unavoidably / can't help / really / rather The word 未免 is often translated to "a bit too" or "rather" when used in sentences such as 这个价格未免太贵了吧 or 他未免太紧张了 (...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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3 answers
262 views

Why does 黄牛 mean scalper?

What is the history of the word 黄牛 meaning scalper? MDBG defines it like this:
rhughes's user avatar
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6 votes
3 answers
922 views

Word for “planet”

This Wiktionary article mentions that the term for “planet” is 行星 and that it was “[c]oined by Alexander Wylie and Li Shanlan in 1859,” from characters meaning “travel” and “star,” which makes sense ...
Pierre Paquette's user avatar
3 votes
2 answers
159 views

What was the glyph origin of 己? What was its original meaning?

I understand that the current meaning of 己 is "oneself", which is different to its original meaning. Now I am curious about the history of the character. I found different opinions regarding ...
mawgumelar's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
218 views

Is there a connection between right (direction) and the 'stone' radical?

An answer in Linguistics led me to investigate the radicals composing the written word 'right' (右), which led me to the stone radical (石). There is a very subtle (to me) difference in that the lines ...
Ben Hocking's user avatar
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2 answers
140 views

How did 拳 come to mean "(Chinese-style) boxing/fighting style"?

I recently I learned about a character from Naruto named Rock Lee, one of whose moves is called "Drunken Fist" in official English translations. That's obviously an admittedly bad literal ...
Vun-Hugh Vaw's user avatar
2 votes
6 answers
541 views

I am trying to understand 写

冖 + 与 = 写。how does mi and yu become xie? Mi is the cover radical and Yu means and; with; to; for; give, grant according to Pleco.
Ralph Bacolod's user avatar
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2 answers
113 views

How does 斡旋 mean "to mediate"?

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​...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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1 vote
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299 views

What’s the deal with the xing-type readings for 行?

How come did the readings of the xing-category appear for 行? They make no sense. The Early Middle Chinese for “to walk” is γæng, which should give héng – and so it does, in 胻, 蘅, 桁 – even with the ...
Alexander Z.'s user avatar
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3 answers
260 views

Was the term 民國 wholly coined by the founders of the Republic of China?

By the time the Republic of China was founded, the terms 民主國 and 共和國 had been firmly established as translations for the English term "republic". Despite that, founder Sun Yat-sen insisted ...
Vun-Hugh Vaw's user avatar
1 vote
1 answer
101 views

When did Chinese switch from full numerical year numbers (e.g. 一千八百九十四) to per-digit year numbers (e.g. 一八九四)?

In Modern Japanese and Korean, years are always read/expressed as full numerical values. So 1894 would be 千八百九十四 in both languages. This practice was once done in China as well - 1894 would be 一千八百九十四 ...
LittleWhole's user avatar
1 vote
2 answers
92 views

How to analyse the word 是指?

Is there any attested etymology for this word or can anyone otherwise attempt to break down its compositional logic for me please? On the face of it, 是指 looks structurally similar to 是说. However, the ...
Sanchuan's user avatar
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6 votes
2 answers
267 views

Is 泵 the only transliterated loanword with its own logogram in all of Chinese?

Phonetic transliterations of foreign words are not uncommon in Mandarin, e.g. 沙发 for "sofa", 逻辑 for "logic", etc. Much less common are what I would call "transliterated ...
Sanchuan's user avatar
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1 vote
1 answer
169 views

What is the etymology of the different sentence final particles?

I'm curious about the etymology of 吗,吧, 呢,and 了. Does anyone have theories or sources on the subject?
Buddy L's user avatar
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2 votes
3 answers
329 views

Is there an etymological connection between 包 and 抱?

As for the written characters, as both words are pronounced very similarly it makes sense that they share a phonetic component. But where do the spoken words actually come from? It seems very likely ...
Buddy L's user avatar
  • 892
1 vote
4 answers
218 views

Why does 即使 mean even if?

Usually when two characters combine I can puzzle through how they obtained their combined meaning. However, even after years of study I have no idea why 即使 means even if. I’m looking to better ...
Grant Curell's user avatar
0 votes
2 answers
110 views

Is 甭 just the amalgamation of 不 and 用?

Can't think of any right now, but I have seen other characters which are really 2 characters combined. Is 甭 just the amalgamation,phonetically and graphically, of 不 and 用, or some other provenance? ...
Pedroski's user avatar
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1 vote
1 answer
268 views

What does 法令 mean in 法令紋 "smile lines, laugh lines"?

The 法令 in 法令紋 is confusing me. 法令 never shows up in the three morphemes in NasoLabial Folds broken down, and translated, into Chinese below. 2. 法令紋 nasolabial folds, smile lines, laugh lines nasal ...
user avatar
8 votes
2 answers
258 views

Where did the “obedient” sense of 乖 come from?

This character 乖 is used in words like 乖離, 乖違, and 乖戾, and means something along the lines of “to deviate from the norm or reason” or even “to disobey”. I’m wondering how it came to be used for a ...
aguijonazo's user avatar
7 votes
3 answers
924 views

Why is 吏 (lì) pronounced differently to 史 (shǐ) and 使 (shǐ)?

The pronunciation of 吏 (lì) is frustratingly hard to remember since it's different to two similar-looking characters 史 (shǐ) and 使 (shǐ). Sometimes learning the etymology, and the reason why a ...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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4 votes
1 answer
525 views

What are characters called when they have three of the same radical used?

I sometimes encounter characters like 鑫, which is made of three 金 radicals, or 龘, which is made of three 龍 radicals. What are they called and is there a reason for their existence? Ive tried looking ...
user avatar
5 votes
3 answers
427 views

Why is 参差 pronounced cēncī?

CC-CEDICT: 参差 (cēn​cī​) uneven / jagged / snaggletooth / ragged / serrated CC-CEDICT: 参差不齐 (cēn​cī​bù​qí​) (idiom) variable / uneven / irregular Judging from Pleco, outside of 参差, the character 参 is ...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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2 votes
2 answers
121 views

Why does "meta-" translate to “元-”?

Why does "meta-" translate to “元-”? For example, metadata=元数据, meta-analysis=元分析, metaphysics=元物理学。 I understand meta-X to mean "X that is about/of/concerning X". But 元 tends to ...
Benjamin Wang's user avatar
1 vote
3 answers
228 views

Why is 黄河 used in the saying 不到黄河心不死?

In Chinese, there's a saying along the lines of "it's not over until the fat lady sings": CC-CEDICT: 不到黄河心不死: lit. not to stop until one reaches the Yellow River (idiom) / fig. to persevere ...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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2 votes
2 answers
237 views

How did 子 come to mean "master?"

In cases of famous masters like Laozi, Zhuangzi, Mozi, Sunzi, Kong Fuzi, etc. the suffix -子 is translated as "master" or sometimes "great teacher." Otherwise it indicates offspring ...
Rubellite Fae's user avatar
2 votes
3 answers
197 views

What is the meaning for the 炮 in 娘炮?

I know what the word as a whole means but just wondering if anyone know something about perhaps the etymology and/or meaning or the like of the 炮 part in the word 娘炮, i.e. why use the character 炮 here ...
Leo's user avatar
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3 votes
2 answers
612 views

Why does 所有人 also mean owner and proprietor?

I understand how 所有人 means "every person". But how can 所有人 mean proprietor? In Ancient and Modern China, most people have not owned a company, land or estate! Most people are employed by a ...
user avatar
2 votes
3 answers
281 views

What language did 咖啡 reach Chinese from?

"Coffee" is originally an Arabic word that reached the English language through Turkish at some point in the 16th century. Does anyone know the history of the word 咖啡 in Chinese? When did it ...
Buddy L's user avatar
  • 892
5 votes
1 answer
434 views

How old are 她,他,它?

In many languages, nouns have gender, that is the noun is considered to be feminine, masculine or neuter (Latin for neither, not masculine, also not feminine.) The gender of the noun affects how other ...
Pedroski's user avatar
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1 vote
2 answers
95 views

Why does 縱 mean both "loose; vertical; although; even if"

詞類 英文意義 1 v. loose; allow; relax; let go; let fly; be indulgent; release; set free 2 adj. vertical; perpendicular; longitudinal; lengthwise 3 conj. although 4 idiom even if; granted that http://...
user avatar
1 vote
5 answers
471 views

Why is 奇数 pronounced jīshù and not qíshù?

Integers {...,-2,-1,0,1,2,...} split into two types: CC-CEDICT: 偶数 (ǒu​shù​) even number CC-CEDICT: 奇数 (jī​shù​) odd number Oddly, 奇 is pronounced jī and not qí. This leads to the question... ...
Becky 李蓓's user avatar
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1 vote
2 answers
112 views

Why does 履 mean both "shoes" and "fulfill; assume"?

詞類 英文意義 n. shoes; footstep v. tread on; experience; put on; ascend the throne; fulfill; assume http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=%E5%B1%A5 Is this etymology related to ...
user avatar
-1 votes
2 answers
152 views

For 須, what does "to make (time) pliant" mean?

詞類 英文意義 adj. necessary modal v. must n. beard, whiskers (arch.) ; moment v. have to; wait; expect Table from CUHK. Question 1. Why does 須 mean both "must" and "wait; expect"? ...
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