Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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What is an example of a surname formed by combining two single-character family names?

There are many origins of compound surnames. Some derive from royal or official titles, place-names, professions, while others originate from non-Han Chinese clans that lived in ancient China or were ...
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What is the history of 要?Did it first mean "to want" and then get extended to mean "to be gong to"? Or was it the other way around?

要 can mean both "to be going to" and "to want". So the sentence: 我要看电视 would probably mean "I want to watch TV", but "(明天)我要上学“ would probably mean "I am going ...
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Is 消杀 (xiāoshā) a new word, and what does it mean?

In recent reading about the pandemic, suddenly I'm encountering the word 消杀. It doesn't appear in any dictionary I'm aware of, but it seems to be used in formal communication. I also encountered it ...
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What's the morphological breakdown of 合同?

Which of the two morphemes is the head and which is the complement? Can it be considered a VP with a verb and its result complement (namely: to join together resulting in sameness) which has become a ...
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What is the etymology of 蔬菜?

How old is the usage of 蔬菜 to mean vegetables? Did it used to be only 蔬?Or only 菜? I can't find any other usage of 蔬 (other than things like 果蔬, where 蔬 seems to be just a stand in for 蔬菜), whereas 菜 ...
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What does 肯 mean, in the word 肯定?

肯: Archaic: bone on marrow ----> 中肯=essence Agree, consent Be willing to, be ready to Often, tending to Which of these meanings gives us the word 肯定?
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What is the normal process through which 多音字 develop?

Do 多音字 usually develop as separate words that just happen to be written in the same way? Or do they usually arise as one word that diverges into different pronunciations for its different senses? This ...
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Is 欢 a result complement of 喜 in the morphological breakdown of 喜欢?

Can somebody break down 喜欢 for me? 喜 alone is defined as a verb, "to be fond of",so I imagine that this is the sense of the the word that is used in the compound 喜欢, which means the same ...
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Etymology of 还是 to mean "or" in questions

How old is this usage of 还是?I would like to understand how "also is" came to be used as "or".
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What is the semantic extension of 成?

How can we correctly think of the history of 成? It is used as a result-complement as well as a meaningful bound form (成人,成长,成功,etc.). Which usage is original and gave rise to the other?
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What is the origin of 相当? How does it relate to other uses of 当?

I automatically associate 当 with its usage as a verb "to work as, to be". This helps me understand 当天 (the day that is),当然 (to be so), 应当 (ought to be). However this does not help me ...
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Chinese to Chữ Nôm converter online

Why it is very hard to find the Chữ Nôm for the very common Hanzi 有 ? Maybe this Hanzi was not so used in the past ? This looks very strange, and any light on it is welcome !
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What is the origin of 名堂?Compound or loanword?

Does anyone know of the origin of this word? It feels like it must be a loan word from another language as I can't find the semantic connection to 名 and 堂。Any ideas?
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Are 混沌 and 葫蘆 semantically and phonetically related?

混沌 and 葫蘆 are 聯綿詞/連綿詞. They are disyllabic words that the characters are only used to record the sound. 混沌 is originally 天地未開闢以前之元氣狀態 (the chaos before the sky and the earth were separated), and also ...
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What is the colloquial meaning of 小祖宗 ?

I've heard someone saying 小祖宗 to a little kid (literally: little ancestor). I assumed it was some sort of general exclamation or lament, like 我的天呢!as the mood was of slight annoyance. However after ...
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Good Mnemonic to remember few radicals

隶 lì to catch, Servant 麦 mài wheat, barley Can anyone suggest unique, etymologically correct mnemonic for the above radicals? Thanks
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Why do 生意 ("business") and 交易 ("business deal") use distinct "yì"-pronounced characters?

CC-CEDICT: 生意 (shēng​yi​) business / CL: 筆|笔 CC-CEDICT: 交易 (jiāo​yì​) (business) transaction / business deal / CL: 筆|笔 I'm just curious as to why these two semantically related words have distinct ...
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Why do 嬲, 嫐 mean "play with; flirt with; angry"?

Tianjin Qin's answer alludes to the answer, but can you please expatiate the semantic relationship between 嬲 (Man-Woman-Man), 嫐 (Woman-Man-Woman) with teasing? Do 嬲, 嫐 symbolize peer pressure or ...
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How do 台, 鑒 compound to mean Salutation of a formal business letter, but after someone's name?

Why's 台 a term of address? How do 台,鑒 semantically appertain salutations in a formal letter? Alone 台 and 鑒 don't mean salutations or greetings in a formal letter. 張三台 and 張三鑒 don't make sense! ...
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Why's 人 (human) the radical and semantic component of 儲 "to store, collect"?

How do human beings semantically appertain to the verbs for "to store, collect"? I cite Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (2007). First I pinpointed 儲 at the ...
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Why does 義, as a noun, mean both "righteousness, justice" and "meaning, purport, interpretation"?

Please see the red side lines below. How did "Be right, righteous, proper" shift to mean "true sense; meaning"? How do they semantically appertain each other? I cite Axel ...
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“What is Standard Mandarin?”, and How was it "Standardized"?

I hope my question is answered / commented upon in the spirit of a dispassionate academic discourse.
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Did the Chinese 獅子 = "lion" originate from the Persian شیر (šīr)?

There's Wikipedia page List of loanwords in Chinese (listed as "incomplete" at the time of writing) which contains the entry: 獅子 (shīzi) "lion" شیر (šīr) "lion" So the ...
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How did 潛 shift from signifying 'wading in the water' to 'under water'?

CUHK doesn't appear to expound the semantic shift from wading in water to under water. 從「水」,「朁」聲,本義為涉水。《說文》:「涉水也。一曰:藏也。一曰:漢水爲潛。从水,朁聲。」《詩‧小雅‧正月》:「魚在于沼,亦匪克樂;潛雖伏矣,亦孔之炤。」 Axel Schuessler, ABC ...
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How does 味 (taste, flavor) semantically appertain to 意味 (meaning)?

意味 baffles me. What the heck is 味 doing in 意味? What does 味 contribute or relate to 意味? Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 892.
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Why's 耳 (ear) the semantic component of 耽 (to delay, indulge; negligent)?

CUHK doesn't appear to answer my question, or expatiate how 耳 semantically appertains 耽. What notions semantically link "本義為耳大下垂" with 耽? 從「耳」,「冘」聲,本義為耳大下垂。《說文》:「耳大垂也。从耳,冘聲。《詩》曰:士之耽兮。」《淮南子‧...
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How does 亡 's original meaning (cutting edge of knife) semantically appertain its senses of 1. escaped and 2. go away?

CUHK substantiates Wiktionary's asseveration Ideogram (指事): a line on 刀 – cutting edge of a knife; the original form of 芒 (OC *maːŋ, *maŋ, “edge of a knife”). But I don't understand CUHK's 詳解 that I ...
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How does 省's original meaning (ocular disease) semantically appertain its nounal (1. province) and verbal senses (2. examine; 3 economize; 4. omit)?

Correct my translation, but 省's 略說 touts that The Jia Jin inscriptions from "屮" from "目" means that the eyes give birth to something that blocks vision. Thus you can't see ...
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How did 端 semantically shift to signify "destroy", when its semantic component 立 signifies 'stand'', 'establish'?

CUHK doesn't even moot the meaning of "destroy" that undeniably is the polar opposite meaning of 立! Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 182. Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of ...
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For 陣, how do 'file of troops' semantically appertain to 'short moment of time'?

My Chinese is rudimentary, but CUHK doesn't appear to expatiate this semantic shift.   「陣」也用作量詞,表示事物經過的時間段。前蜀毛文錫詞〈醉花間〉:「昨夜雨霏霏,臨明寒一陣。偏憶戍樓人,久絕邊庭信。」宋張輯詞《點絳唇‧南浦月》:「來剪蓴絲,江頭一陣鳴蓑雨。孤篷歸路,吹得蘋風暮。」 Oxford ...
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Why's 阝the semantic component of 陳?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but 阝 is the left radical form of 阜. Correct? If I understood CUHK, the underlying semantic notion is showiness and bragging, correct? Note that even in English, "show&...
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How did 歸 (revert, send) + 納 (give, receive, insert) compound to signify 歸納 (to deduce, summarize)?

Does 歸納 wrongly conflate deduction and induction, which are different reasonings. Watch this Youtube video. Anyhow, how do 歸 and 納 semantically appertain 歸納? What semantic notions underlie 歸納? ...
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For 服, how do clothes semantically appertain its verbal meanings 'serve', 'obey', 'convince'?

What semantic notions underlie definitions B3-B5 below? CUHK doesn't expatiate the semantic shifts. Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) pp 222-3.
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For 核, how do 'kernels, pits' semantically appertain to 'investigate'?

I think these senses are polysemes, not homonyms, because Wiktionary alleges a relationship between definitions 1 and 2 below. Please expatiate it? What semantic notions underlie kernels and ...
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Why are the characters 打 and 采 in the chengyu 无精打采 (and its variant 没精打采)?

CC-CEDICT: 无精打采 (wú​jīng​dǎ​cǎi​) dispirited and downcast (idiom); listless / in low spirits / washed out I can understand why 无精 is this chengyu; it's basically 没有精神、精力. However, I don't see the ...
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How are 可爱 and Japanese 'kawaii' related?

Did the Japanese word originate in Chinese, or was it the other way around? Or are the two words related at all?
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Isn't 埋 the Private Polar Antonym of 埋怨?

If you're complaining or grumbling (埋怨), then undeniably you're NOT burying or concealing (埋) your grievance or complaint! So why does 埋 belong in 埋怨? Doesn't 埋 gainsay 埋怨? Oxford Chinese Dictionary (...
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How does 濃's semantic component, 氵, appertain to 'thick, strong, concentrated'?

略說: 從「水」,「農」聲。本指露水多,引伸為厚、密的意思。 I read CUHK, but I can't see how (pure) water itself can be construed "thick, strong, concentrated"! I've never heard of water being described as "thick,...
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Etymology of 復員

As I was reading about a former serviceman, I found out that 復員 actually means DE-mobilisation. My intuition would have been strikingly wrong! It is intuitive that 復 means “re-“ or “again”. But for 員 ...
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How can 無奈 signify both "helpless" and the conjunction "but"?

What's the semantic field of 無奈? How does "helpless" semantically appertain to "but; however"? Oxford Chinese Dictionary (2010) p 786. ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive ...
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Why does "不一一" mean "I won't go into details (in letters)?

CUHK appears to lack a listing for 不一一. ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 74.
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How does 奈's semantic component, 示, appertain to 'how, why' (in rhetorical questions)?

CUHK doesn't appear to expound the semantic field of 奈. ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 638.
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What's the semantic field of 由?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 1180. What notions underlie or connect all these ostensibly unrelated different senses? Please be sure to cover all senses in all your answer. ...
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Is there a story behind the word 寒暄 (lit. "cold warm") = "to exchange pleasantries"?

CC-CEDICT: 寒暄 (hán​xuān​) to exchange conventional greetings / to exchange pleasantries CC-CEDICT: 寒 (hán​​) cold / poor / to tremble CC-CEDICT: 暄 (xuān​) genial and warm I have trouble remembering ...
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Meaning of early written versions of 地 and etymology?

The glyph origin section of https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%9C%B0 shows characters that look nothing like the modern "地" (with the exception of the "Small Seal Script" in "...
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Why does 差餉 signify "rates", a type of property tax?

Cambridge and Collins translates "tax" as 稅款. Wikipedia and HKSAR Government's Rating and Valuation Department define 差餉. Why 差? What differs? What's lacking? Why 餉? How's "tax" ...
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Why do Taiwanese refer to canistels as peaches of the immortals (仙桃)?

I read on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pouteria_campechiana: The Taiwanese also call this fruit xiantao (仙桃), "peach of the immortals". Why do Taiwanese refer to canistels as peaches of ...
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Is it possible that 去 originally meant "go to the toilet"?

I was looking up the character 去。 The old forms, 厺 㚎 show a person standing and underneath either 厶, an old form of 私, private, personal or 凵, a receptacle. I know nothing of the toilet habits of the ...
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Why does "yin" (陰) comes first in "yin-yang" (陰陽)?

In the yin-yang dynamic, yang is pretty much always the dominant force: it represents the sun (the "great yang", 太陽), brightness, positivity (陽性), masculinity (the penis, 陽物), the living (陽間,...
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Why's 馬 (horses) the semantic component of 騙 (to fool, to defraud)?

I don't understand how horses (馬) appertain to deceiving and swindling (騙). I'm uneducated on horses. Is there evidence that horses swindle humans or other horses? And I don't understand how the ...
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