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Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about the origin and history of Chinese words.

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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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3answers
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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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1answer
78 views

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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93 views

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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1answer
127 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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1answer
193 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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171 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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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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2answers
218 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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2answers
214 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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1answer
52 views

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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172 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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1answer
151 views

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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4answers
252 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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2answers
153 views

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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2answers
156 views

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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2answers
153 views

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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2answers
133 views

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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2answers
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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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1answer
110 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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1answer
202 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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2answers
112 views

How does 馬 resemble a horse?

Please see my 3 questions inscribed in the screenshot from Wiktionary:
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500 views

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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1answer
42 views

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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2answers
88 views

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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108 views

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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1answer
127 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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2answers
129 views

What is the origin of the word “香蕉?”

Why is the Chinese word for "banana" "香蕉"? Where did it come from?
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3answers
179 views

What is the 门 in 厦门 and 澳门?

Are there other Chinese cities besides 厦门 and 澳门 which end in 门 and what does 门 mean in this context?
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How does 鐘頭 come to mean hour?

I know that 鐘 means clock so am I right in saying that 鐘頭 means head of clock which becomes hour? If it's the head of the clock, is it referring to the minute hand being at the '12' (I.e the top of ...
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1answer
97 views

What is the idea behind creation of a compound word - 处决?

I wonder what the idea (etymology) is behind formation of this word 处决. Is it something like this: to place + to decide = to decide a place for the convict?
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1answer
97 views

Why are mussels called 淡菜

The name 淡菜 would suggest a meaning like "bland vegetable" or something like that. Why are mussels called 淡菜?
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1answer
157 views

Why is the boss called 老板?

The primary meaning of 板 is 'board'. So why does 老板 or 'old board' mean 'boss, chief'?
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2answers
154 views

Why is Belarus called “White Russia”?

In Chinese Belarus is 白俄罗斯, which literally means White Russia. But I don't understand why it is called as such. If you get more rigorous with the pronunciation, it is more like be, but since there ...
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2answers
179 views

Etymology of 南/西/东瓜

Why are the Chinese names of certain vegetables based of off directions (North, South, East, West?) Also, why does a specific direction mean a certain vegetable? (I.e do watermelons come from the ...
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1answer
28 views

What is learned by analyzing the component and relationship of 牧野 in regards to The Battle of Muye?

In other words, what am I missing by not analyzing the characters? It seems that 牧 (mù) can be used in a very Chinese sense to connote a benevolent ruler, in that the term is also used for shepherd. (...
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3answers
199 views

How did 马马虎虎 come to mean so-so?

Why does the above phrase (马马虎虎- lit. Horse horse tiger tiger) mean so-so or moderate? Curious as to how animals can represent expressions
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245 views

Why do the chinese count with 正?

I have seen a couple of shop keepers (in small - mid sized shops) in Hong Kong counting some routine things with this character : "正". The actual tally would start off with the first stoke of that ...
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1answer
98 views

Difference between 傍晚 and 晚上 and their etymology

As in the title. Are there any cases when these two are interchangeable? If yes, when? What are the nuances that distinguish them? It would be great if one can tackle the etymology of the two.
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218 views

Why do Malaysians have Cantonese surnames?

I vaguely know that Cantonese is quite widely spoken in Kuala Lumpur and the peninsular area of Malaysia. Is this the reasons why many Malaysian colleagues have surnames that are common in Hong Kong? ...
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230 views

Why is Mainland China referred to as “大陸” (大陸)?

Question is pretty straight-forward, but why do Hong Kongers (don't know if others too) refer to Mainland China as daai6 luk6 ? any historical reason for this or etymology?
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What's the etymology and significance of yuenyeung (鴛鴦)?

鴛鴦 is a mix of tea and coffee commonly had in Hong Kong (amongst other south-asian countries). I was wondering about how this drink came into being? Where does the title come from (especially the ...
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1answer
57 views

方便: a “skillful means” of translating upāya or not?

In Chinese Buddhism, 方便 is used to translate the word/concept Upāya. Was 方便 an existing Chinese word that already meant "convenient" (or something else) and then given this technical meaning for ...
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1answer
64 views

Why is 面巾纸 different from 纸巾?

If 纸巾 means "paper towel", I can understand how it was combined with "face" 面 to mean "tissue". But I'm curious as to why it's 面巾纸, not 面纸巾. I can't find any definition for 巾纸 on its own, so where did ...
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2answers
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Was 我 pronounced 'è' at some time in the past? [duplicate]

If I look up 饿 in http://zhongwen.com/ I find 饿 = 食 + 我。 Further it says, '我 is phonetic'. Does this mean that at some time in the past, 我 was pronounced 'è'? Taken literally, 饿 should then be ...
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Why 天 is chosen for counting days instead of 日 in Mandarin?

In Classical Chinese, the proper word for counting days is 日. In Southern Chinese languages, 日 is more prevalent in counting days. Why 天 is chosen for counting days in Mandarin instead of 日? Edit ...
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430 views

Why is the penis, a male organ, “阴茎”?

The penis is translated as "阴茎" (literally "yin stem"), but it is a male organ. In the traditional concepts of yin and yang, "阴" is generally associated with the female sex. To support the idea, the ...
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2answers
225 views

What's the glyph origin of 妖?

What's the glyph origin of 妖? Why does it have a woman radical? Why is woman used in a word that means weird or supernatural? Is there a website to look up the evolution of characters?