Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about the origin and history of Chinese words.

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Glyph origins of '進'

Motivation While writing my recent meta question, I've cited Dr. Gavin Chiu (趙善軒)'s article to explain the character '進' and its simplified character '井'. However, a user points out that the linked ...
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Etymology of foreign names translated to Chinese

I am looking for a resource that explains the translation of English names to Chinese. In this case i am trying to understand why Broadway is translated to 百老汇。 Anyone knows? Thanks in advance.
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Etymologies and relationship between the characters 錘, 槌, 鎚, and 椎

Wiktionary lists 錘, 槌, 鎚, and 椎 to all have the meaning of "hammer", but I'm not sure if that was the original meaning for any of those characters, and they all (or at least some) appear to have ...
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141 views

Logic of the word 上午 (shànɡwǔ, morning)

上午 apparently means "morning". But I don't understand the logic of this word for two reasons: 1) Isn't the meaning of 午 "noon"? 2) With the words 早上 (early morning) and 晚上 (evening) then 上 is the ...
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What is the 統 in 傳統?

The 傳 in 傳統 is easy to understand. Tradition is transmitted. As the dictionary(MOE) says: 世代相傳. But what about the 統?It has many meanings, including verbal ones. One (絲的頭緒) refers to the main ...
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How did 零 came to mean zero?

I understand that 零 originally meant rain, however for some reason it eventually became fragments then also zero. How did the meaning of this character shifted to become also fragments (rain drops, ...
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How did 鳥 end up a Kangxi radical but not 烏?

烏, wū, crow, 10 strokes, 灬 radical 鳥, niǎo, bird, 11 strokes, 鳥 radical All the way since at least seal script, 鳥 seems like just 烏 with an additional stroke. They both describe birds in one way or ...
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Why is proton called 质子 and charge called 电荷?

For instance, in medical terminology, we can tease out the meaning from the words. But I cannot tell why we use 质 for proton and 荷 for charge.
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When did the meaning of shi 是 shift from »this« (此) to being a copula (»be«)?

I know this question is somewhat unclear since the word shi 是 never only meant this, but carries (and has done so for a long time) several meanings. The Gu Hanyu da cidian (via Pleco) lists some of ...
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134 views

How old is the usage of the word 上帝?

The word 上帝 is associated by many with western religions. My question is, is there any occurrence of this word in ancient chinese writings or inscriptions?
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Pronounciation and etymology of 啱

I was reading the Wikipedia page on hypercorrection, and I noticed this particle section on Cantonese: In Cantonese, some speakers omit the initial [ŋ]. For instance, the character 牙 (Jyutping: ...
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350 views

Why is a “thing” called “东西” and not “南北”?

Why is a "thing" called "东西" and not "南北"?
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164 views

为什么 “也” 发音为 “ye” 但是 “他”发音为“ta”???

Oh great. I have to ask in English to get it past StackExchange filters. Characters with radicals typically have pronunciations close to the bare character. For example: "韦“ (wei) versus "伟“ (wei) or "...
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Why does 葛藤(갈등) mean 'conflict' or 'troubles'?

I am learning Korean, and my dictionary gives an English meaning for 葛藤(갈등) as 'conflict' or 'troubles'. Why do these characters combine do give this meaning? Both characters seem to mean some kind of ...
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What are the original Chinese characters for the Chinese family name Suening in the Philippines?

My late grandfather left Macau, China to the Philippine to find work around the year 1918-1920. In my dad's baptismal certificate, my grandfather carries the name Leo Suening. It's also common in the ...
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186 views

How did 子, meaning “child”, become a noun suffix?

It's really impressive how 子 [zi] is super productive as a noun suffix. But I can't see any relation of how the idea of "child" could turn into a suffix. Thanks!
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Is the Filipino word “buwisit” really from Hokkien?

I've read a couple of times the word being attributed to Hokkien. This wiktionary entry claims the same. I'm not convinced though.
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How did 孬 become pronounced “nāo”?

孬 is an interesting character. MDBG mentions that 孬 is a: (contraction of 不 and 好) From it's structure it is also quite clear that 孬 is a combination of 不 and 好. From an phonetic angle though nāo,...
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乘 vs 承 - are they related?

Just learnt a few verbs which use 乘 and 承 and was thinking that, not only do they look and sound mighty similar, but their ultimate meanings are both related to 'transfering' something. 乘 with ...
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Etymology/meaning of character 绍 and its relation to 介绍 [duplicate]

According to the dictionaries, the character 绍 means "to carry on, to continue". Looking at its etymology, I found nowhere saying nothing else from it being composed of silk (纟) and the sound 召 [zhao]....
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How did the abbreviations 520 and 521 arise?

This article explains that 520 = 我愛你 521 = 我願意 Many such abbreviations are somewhat intuitive from the mandarin pronunciation: 5918 = wu3jiu4yao1ba1 ~ 吾就要發 But I can see no connection between ...
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“Baby” vs “宝贝” - coincidence?

I am interested if the phonetic similarity between the English "baby" and the Chinese "宝贝" (baobei) is purely coincidental.
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Etymology of phrases 靜雞雞 and 靜靜雞. Are both correct, and is there any difference in meaning?

靜 means "quiet" and "雞" means "chicken". Put together as 靜雞雞 or 靜靜雞 the meaning is "quietly" or "steathily". What is the etymology of 靜雞雞 and 靜靜雞? I've heard both 靜雞雞 and 靜靜雞. Are both correct? Is ...
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How come 将 is a “future marker” and a “passive marker”?

Any good logical theories on the subject? What twisted life must have 将 took to merge such functions into one glyph? For my background 将 as 把(to take) and 将 as 且(further) are queit different in ...
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142 views

Why number 2 has two forms?

二 (èr) and 两 (liăng) I understand when to use which But I'm curious to know why, and correct me if I'm wrong, this is the only number that has 2 forms.
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226 views

What is the real etymology of “China”?

What is the current theory and has there been a reliable answer? The most celebrated theory that it derives from 秦 (Qin, as in the first dynasty, or the preceding state) I find a bit suspect. In ...
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188 views

Why doesn't 褱 sound like its phonetic etymon 眔?

What might explain this phonetic change, in Cantonese and Mandarin? Please educate me if there's a more fitting term than 'phonetic etymon'. Wiktionary avouches the same etymology as Yellowbridge:
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216 views

What is the etymology of 居然?

Usually X+然 has some kind of meaning related to X, especially archaic usage. However I do not see any relationship between 居 "to reside" and "unexpectedly". Are there any historical sources that ...
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267 views

Why is there the character 李 in 行李?

Pleco lists three meanings for the character 李: plum tree plum a surname None seem related to luggage!
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258 views

戴绿帽子 as based on a pun?

Having come across the association of green hats with unfaithful spouses a few times, I tried to learn the original of this practice. A few sources (e.g. here) mention that the origin of this phrase ...
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What common words in MSM actually come from taboo?

A lot of dialectical words are actually just taboo renditions of common words. For instance: 旺子 [wang zi] in Sichuanese comes from taboo on saying the ominous, inauspicious word blood 血 and ...
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194 views

Where did the words for various colours originate from?

I wonder if , like English, the words for colours (red,yellow, green) just formed arbitrarily in Chinese? Or is there a story behind choosing 红色, for red, 蓝色 for blue etc? It’s also interesting how ...
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How did “kitsch” (刻奇) come to stand for emotional contagion in a group?

刻奇 is said to be a loanword from English meaning: kitsch Kitsch in short is said to be: Kitsch is garish and sentimental art or other objects. In long it is defined as: Kitsch (/kɪtʃ/; ...
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286 views

Etymology of 若 vis-a-vis 如果

I came across 若 from my lessons today, as in 若天下雨,我就出发。 Being familiar with 如果, I immediately assumed 若 is just a short/abbreviated/spoken form of 如果. However, I broached the idea to my Chinese ...
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What is the relation between 寨 (zhài, “stockade, stronghold, fort”) and 塞 (sài, “place of strategic importance; pass; fortress”)?

Most dictionaries say 寨 = 塞 + 木, but on its face, we could just as easily have 塞 = 寨 + 土.
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What's the relationship between 暖, 爱 and 愛?

I was curious when I noticed that 暖 contains the character 爱, so I thought that in the traditional form, it would have 愛, the traditional form of 爱. But it appears that 暖 has the same form in both ...
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We say 上个星期, 上个月 and 去年 why not 上个年?

And the same with 下个年? Ok 明年 has some logic in in because of 明天, but 去年 is off for me.
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Was the word 男朋友 borrowed from English (or maybe the opposite)?

男朋友 and 女朋友 have the same thought process as their English counterparts, as in both words are compounded of (the gender) + ("friend"), even though they're actually used to refer to a romantic partner ...
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What is the difference between 嫐 and 嬲?

According to mdbg.net, both characters have a meaning of "to tease": 嬲 to tease / to disturb 嫐 to tease / to play around with Are both of them primarily used as synonyms for "tease"? Or are they ...
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130 views

neutral tone in a non-final syllable

Can a neutral/fifth tone appear in a word syllable other than the last one? If so, as a lexical tone, a sandhi tone or both? Adding a few examples would be helpful.
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116 views

Why is 伴 used for buddy?

Is it true that 伴 comes from the word, 半(half) and thus can be interpreted as (significant other person)?
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316 views

What are the original Chinese characters for the Filipino-Chinese family name Suico?

The book Life in Old Parian says the Cebuano family name Suico has Chinese origin, and I'm looking for the original Chinese characters. I'm trying to narrow it down based on the Hokkien pronunciation ...
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How does 馬 resemble a horse?

Please see my 3 questions inscribed in the screenshot from Wiktionary:
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Why does 写 not have a dot on top?

Many hanzi have a roof on top, including a dot. From the HSK2 list, we have: 客 家 字 完 室 安 它 The commonly used hanzi 写 is unlike these because it does not have a dot on top. Chinese-tools.com ...
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The etymology of 便当 in Chinese

The following excerpt is from the top answer on 知乎: 丈夫每天吃自己做的便当(没错,是他自己做的,不是他妻子做的)她吃大餐,去一次美容院就能花4.2万。看表情就知道,这位太太毫无愧疚之心,可能还觉得自己萌萌哒。两人摊牌后,妻子没有道歉,而是要求丈夫以后更努力工作赚钱。最后以这男人跳下站台自杀,妻子改嫁结束。 The 便当 here ...
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代表你的猴山; why can it be used in this way?

In the show I am watching the protagonist asked a person with the surname 猴: 你是代表你的猴山還是代表最高反貪總局? Obviously, he means Are you expressing your private opinion, or the order of the supreme anti ...
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Glyph origins and meaning of 敢

What is the meaning and etymology of the LEFT component of this character: 敢 ? I have already checked Wiltionary and Chinese Text Project. Thank you for the help.
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How did 革 get the meaning “change” 變革?

I wondered how a character originally representing animal skin could appear in words such as 沿革、革命、變革. Ripping off the skin from an animal, thereby "removing the old and getting the new" seems a ...
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277 views

Colloquialism - “I go to school by bus”

I've seen this phrase being used frequently on social media amongst the youth of Hong Kong. "I go to school by bus" Would anyone kindly explain how this phrase came to be and what it means? From my ...
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160 views

What is the origin of the word “香蕉?”

Why is the Chinese word for "banana" "香蕉"? Where did it come from?