Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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2
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1answer
116 views

Why does 漠 (desert) have water in it?

Since deserts are made of sand, does anyone have a clue why the character has 氵 in it? Does it mean "desert" in the sense of "desolate"?
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206 views

What is the textbook 发展汉语:高级口语(I) referring to about the etymology of 买单?

From the textbook 发展汉语:高级口语(I) page 82 (image), we have the following: 据统计,现代汉语中每年大概要出现1000个左右新词新语。有的是随着新事物、新现象、新观念的出现而产生的,如“手机”“宽带”;有的是来自外语或汉语方言的,如“脱口秀”“买单”;有的是旧词语有了新的用法和含义,如“下课”“菜单”;还有的是词语衍生或缩略形成的,...
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478 views

Why does 减弱 (lit. “reduce weak”) mean “to weaken”?

减弱 (jiǎn​ruò) CC-CEDICT: to weaken / to fall off I find this counter-intuitive, since we have: 减 CC-CEDICT: to lower / to decrease / to reduce / to subtract / to diminish 弱 CC-CEDICT: weak / feeble /...
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The Etymology of the word 有的

Im having trouble wrapping my brain around why the characters "有的" are chose to represent the idea of "a smaller amount of a larger group" or more directly in english: the word &...
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285 views

How did 黑鍋 “black wok” semantically shift to mean “blame for a crime”?

https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/38716 spurred this question. 黑鍋 - Wiktionary (literally) black wok (figuratively) blame for a crime How did "black wok" semantically shift to mean ...
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275 views

What's a good place to look up the etymology of certain Chinese words that aren't immediately obvious?

Many Chinese words make a lot of sense when you consider the meanings of individual characters. However, others aren't quite as obvious at first glance. For example, Why does 有机 as in 有机食品 mean ...
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2answers
851 views

What does rain 雨 have to do with mold 霉 and bad luck?

Almost all the other characters with the 雨 component have relation to rain, clouds, and weather. However, this character 霉 seems to be the exception. It means mold, but the rain semantic seems very ...
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2answers
730 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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80 views

For 實, what semantic notions underlie wealth and fullness of heart, with trueness?

I can't read Chinese, but if Google Translate is correct, CUHK blazons 2 etymologies for 實: Synopsis : 金文「實」字會屋內充滿貝、玉等寶物之意,本義是富實、富足。 [1.] Elaboration: 西周散氏盤銘文「實」字從「宀」從「周」從「貝」,「周」為「琱」的象形,指琱琢之玉,...
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103 views

How does “the copula 惟” distinguish the meanings of negation for 非 v. 不?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. p 253. I understand copulas for English, but not for Chinese here. Anyways, ...
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56 views

What semantic notions underlie “righteousness, uprightness” (義) with “appearance; apparatus” (儀)?

"Appearances can be deceiving", and instruments have been used for torture. So how did 義 semantically shift to mean definitions 1-4 below? p 1134, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive ...
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55 views

How does 唔 + 通 compound to mean the rhetorical question of “is it possible that”?

I can't find 唔通 in ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), probably for it's Cantonese. 唔通 (m4 tung1 | ) : could it be that ...? - CantoDict 唔  m4  -  not; no 通  tung1  -  through; ...
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84 views

What semantic notions underlie 氵(left radcial for water) with 沮 (to prevent; to ruin; disheartened)?

Is weeping the underlying semantic notion? Doubtless weeping involves water (tears), and usually follows gloom. Unusually CUHK blazons no etymology. Yellowbridge.
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How did 外国人 become 老外?

From Baidu: 老外,是中国人对国外人的一种俗称,类似与老张、老王、老李之类的称呼。称呼中加“老”显得亲热,比如“老乡”“老表”,称呼你老外,就像称呼老张老李那样,大大咧咧,随便亲切。过去中国人对外国人的称呼都是用在第三人称上,只有“老外”可以用于第二人称。 To translate, it says laowai is a colloquial term for ...
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354 views

How did lotus come to mean hold or carry?

Reading a little about 'dark matter': 暗物质是宇宙的重要组成部分,它是一种比电子和光子还要小的物质,不带电荷, .... I read: 不带电荷:doesn't carry an electric lotus! (Maybe that's why it's dark!!) 电荷: electrical charge, literally probably: ...
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Why is 月 used when speaking about anatomy?

One thing I've been curious about while learning Chinese is the use of 月 in many 汉字 representing anatomical features (for example, 脸, 腰, or 腿). What is the etymology of the use of 月 as a radical?
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339 views

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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370 views

Origin of double phonetic component 静

静 is another character that has confused me. 青 (green/blue) doesn't seem to be related to quietness or stillness, unless the colors are supposed to represent quietness? 争 (fight) certainly is not ...
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107 views

What semantic notions underlie 'hem, margin; reason, cause; karma, fate' for 緣?

p 1194, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. Sset 3 originates from the semantic radical 糸. How did Set 3 (the ...
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3answers
275 views

校 - How did “leg-brace” come to mean “school”?

When learning Chinese characters using radicals, this character 校 always seem to puzzle me. I've always known 校 to be school, but the "wood" radical never made any sense to me. What does ...
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Are there any online etymological dictionaries of Mandarin (not for characters but for spoken words)

tl;dr Are you aware of any dictionaries that explain word etymologies (not merely character etymologies)? Some links/references would be useful. This is actually a collection of related questions, ...
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252 views

Are pleonasms like 尷尬 common, where at least two compounds share the same semantic component?

尷尬 feels like a pleonasm, for it shares 尢 as the semantic component. Why wasn't just one character, either 尷 or 尬, used to signify the meaning of 尷尬? How common are such pleonasms? What are the ...
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5answers
837 views

Why was the rice component added to 气 to form 氣?

气 is an ancient character that has roots in an oracle bone pictogram, but according to this, the rice radical was added in the Tang dynasty to form 氣. What were the reasons for this? What does 气, ...
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1answer
101 views

How does 即 + 使 compound to mean “even”?

Cambridge translates 'even' as 即使, as can be substantiated on ZDIC.net. But what semantic notions underlie 即, 使 with "even"? ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't ...
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2answers
74 views

Why was 異 (uncommon; to distinguish) adopted to mean the chemistry prefix of iso- (equal)?

Doubtless the non-chemical meanings of 異 are the polar opposite of iso- in chemistry, as in isomers. Taiwan's National Academy of Education Research and Wiktionary blazon this meaning. CUHK and ZDIC ...
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1answer
57 views

How can 敷衍 signify both 'perfunctory' and 'expound'?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. p 278. Zdic.net annunciates the same meanings. Doubtless, "perfunctory&...
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1answer
70 views

What semantic notions underlie 遮 (obstruction) with 辶 (walking)?

CUHK doesn't proffer an etymology. I quote Yellowbridge. How are my two guesses? Was Ancient China so lawless and unruly that you needed to shield yourself, even when just sauntering? Did Ancient ...
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3answers
84 views

How did 所以 semantically shift from “what one uses” to mean “consequently”?

Can someone please expound the semantic shift below, step-by-step? Wiktionary is too brusque. Prefix attached to verbs to form noun phrases, indicating the patient of the verb, similar to a passive ...
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1answer
69 views

What semantic field underlies 傾?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. p 726. Definitions 1, 3 don't fit the others. CUHK doesn't expound what ...
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1answer
63 views

How did 甚 + 至 compound to mean “even”?

Collins translates 'even' as 甚至, as can be substantiated on ZDIC.net. But what semantic notions underlie 甚, 至 with "even"? ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't ...
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4answers
3k views

“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
53 views

What semantic notions underlie 草 (grass) with 拈花惹草 (philandering)?

How does grass semantically shift to involve womanizing? I know that women have been metaphorized as flowers, but not grass? Wiktionary. 拈花惹草的解释 lit. to pick the flowers and trample the grass (idiom)​...
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1answer
35 views

How does 飄 + 然 compound to mean 'floating in the air'?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. Neither 飄 nor 然 mean 'air'. One can drift or float in water, or mentally in ...
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1answer
33 views

How did 搭 + 訕 compound to mean 'strike up a conversation' or 'reply evasively'?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. The 搭 in 搭訕 doesn't make sense to me. 搭 doesn't mean 'strike up' or 'reply'. ...
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What semantic notions underlie 扌(left radical for hand) with 擾 (to disturb)?

CUHK doesn't expound the semantic shift. Synopsis  : 金文從「卤」從「頁」。「卤」是「卣」字的形訛,「卣」是古代裝水、酒的青銅器,象人雙手捧「卣」之形。「卣」亦是聲符。「卣」、「擾」、「柔」古音相近,同屬幽部。從「卤」從「頁」之字形,孫詒讓認為是「擾」的異文。 Elaboration: 金文通讀作「柔」,表示安撫,番生簋:「擾遠能𤞷(邇)」。《...
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1answer
121 views

What semantic notions underlie 人 (person) and 僅 (solely)?

CUHK and Yellowbridge don't expound the semantic shift. I'm especially addled by the shift in lexical categories too, from a noun to an adverb. Synopsis  : 從「人」,「堇」聲,用作副詞,表示才、只。 Elaboration: 從「人」,「堇」...
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2answers
87 views

What semantic notions underlie 女 (woman) with 妖 (goblin, fradulent, gorgeous)?

p 1122, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. CUHK doesn't expound. I quote Yellowbridge. Did misogyny or foot ...
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1answer
139 views

How did 爽 (an elephant holding 2 weapons under each armpit), semantically shift to mean aglow, gleaming; “frank”?

p 865, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. I Google-translated CUHK's etymology, but what semantic notions ...
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1answer
56 views

How does 除 + 非 compound to mean “except if”?

Collins translates "unless" as 除非, and Cambridge English-Chinese Dictionary synonymizes "unless" to "except if" before translating it. I'll focus on the Cambridge's ...
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1answer
41 views

How does 儘 + 管 compound to mean "despite”?

despite's "prepositional sense "notwithstanding" (early 15c.) is short for in despite of "in defiance or contempt of" (c. 1300), a loan-translation of Anglo-French en despit ...
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What semantic field underlies 尚?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 799. I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. CUHK doesn't expound what semantic notions underlie all 4 definitions,...
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0answers
37 views

What semantic notions underlie wickedness (歹) with disparate, distinctive (殊)? [duplicate]

p 158, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. CUHK's etymology is too brusque. p 863, op. cit. I screenshot ...
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0answers
23 views

What semantic field underlies 治?

p 1263, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. CUHK doesn't expound what semantic notions underlie all 7 ...
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0answers
22 views

How did 靦腆 compound to mean shy, bashful?

Neither of 靦腆's components semantically appertains to bashfulness. p 924, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. ...
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3answers
121 views

Why's flesh (⺼ ) the semantic component for 肩, 脖?

I know that 脖 (neck) and 肩 (shoulder) contains flesh, but they aren't the fleshiest, most sarcous or adipose, unlike the butt. If CUHK is proclaiming that 肩 resembles a shoulder, I can't see the ...
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1answer
36 views

For 敨, what semantic notions underlie 'rap, tap' with 'to open; to unravel; to breathe; to rest'?

Doubtless, humans must open or unravel their mouths to breathe. But how does unrolling or untying semantically relate to resting? How did 攴 ('rap, tap') semantically shift to mean these definitions? ...
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1answer
55 views

How did 索性 get translated as “you might as well (do it)”

I'm curious as to how 索性 came to be translated as "you might as well (do it)" 索性: 直截了当,干脆 索性:任性 索 apparently has English meanings of: large rope, cable; rules, laws; to demand, to exact; ...
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2answers
62 views

How did the compound 莫 + 非 semantically shift to mean “can it be/is it possible + that”?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 628. I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. 莫非 - Wiktionary appears correct. Am I correct that 莫 here means 3 ...
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1answer
102 views

For 或, what semantic notions underlie “tool or weapon on a pole” (戈) + “mouth” (口) + “territory” (1)?

I consulted p 399, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003) that It substantiates Wiktionary's definitions. I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. How did 戈 ...
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2answers
123 views

What semantic notions underlie “durable; to endure” (耐) with “about 3 cm”, “tiny” (寸)?

CUHK doesn't expound the semantic shift. Doesn't 寸 contradict 耐? Humans usually "endure" or "resist" what's hefty and strong, not objects that are "tiny" and merely "...

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