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Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about the origin and history of Chinese words.

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538 views

Why do some Chinese characters have multiple simplified variants?

According to Unihan database some Chinese characters have multiple simplified variants. For example the Chinese character 鍾 have 2 simplified variants: 钟 and 锺 How it could happen? What is the ...
23
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5answers
4k views

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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2answers
351 views

Character 瞓: where did the pronunciations come from?

The character 瞓 is a Cantonese character meaning "sleep". It is pronounced xùn in mandarin and fan3 in Cantonese. I was wondering how two so different pronunciations (I would expect xun to match syun ...
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1answer
103 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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1answer
53 views

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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1answer
194 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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2answers
101 views

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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2answers
1k views

角/毛 (10 cents) for money: why?

from: List of historical Chinese currency terms 角 (litterally a corner / a horn of an animal) = 毛 (litterally "a feather of a bird") = 1/10 the main unit. Why use 角 and 毛 for, what we might call ...
8
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1answer
503 views

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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1answer
180 views

What is the origin of 抠门儿?

I understand that 抠门儿 is an informal phrase meaning dingy. But can't figure out how these three Chinese words combined together could be used to describe a person being dingy (extremely reluctant to ...
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1answer
58 views

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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9answers
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Number two in chinese: 二 vs 两

I always knew, from my studies of Japanese, that the number two is 二 (èr). I am not sure about the actual etymology, but looking at the character, it's understandable why it represents the number "2". ...
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2answers
556 views

Origin of the word “娘惹”

I know what 娘惹 means (wikipedia), however, I couldn't find any reference on its origin. Is it a Chinese transliteration of a Malaysian word, a Cantonese/Hokkien word or a Mandarin word? What's the ...
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5answers
1k views

Does 华裔 mean 'overseas Chinese'?

Is 华裔 a term that means an ethnically Chinese person born and raised abroad? What about 2nd generation? Does it apply to, say, American born Chinese, Chinese-Canadians, Chinese-Australians, Chinese-...
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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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2answers
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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
174 views

How does '一勿' Compound to mean sundial?

Etymology [of 腸] Ideogrammic compound (會意): 日 ‎(“sun”) + 一 + 勿   The rays of the sun. [ From chineseetymology.org: ] Primitive pictograph 昜. From sun日 (rays) on a sun dial (一勿). Meaning ...
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1answer
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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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4answers
519 views

Why was the rice radical 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
97 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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3answers
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Should 屋 and 居 use radical 户 instead of 尸?

户 means home. So these examples are not suprising: 房 fáng (house), 扁 biǎn (flat), 扇 shàn (fan [mostly used indoor]), 扉 fēi (door) 尸 means corpse, and it looks like it refers to tail or something ...
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1answer
208 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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1answer
134 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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2answers
176 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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4answers
825 views

When radicals make words does Chinese convey two layers of meaning all the time?

I can recognize and translate the 215 radicals. Now, I'm told radicals combine with each other and other characters to make words, and that some radicals denote sound for pronunciation of the word. ...
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3answers
193 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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6answers
520 views

A unified theory of 就 meaning

就 always bothered me. I couldn't (and maybe still can't) get a hold of its meaning. By looking at many examples of the usage I came to realization that 就 marks a process of becoming a subject to or ...
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4answers
262 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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4answers
261 views

或: how did “region” become “either”?

The character 或 is used today for the meanings "or", "either", "maybe", and "perhaps". Historically, it had the meaning of "region", and it is this meaning that characters like 國 and 域 derive from. ...
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6answers
986 views

What is the glyph origin of '奇'?

Lost Glyph Origin 奇 ( jī | qí ) is a character that means strange but the glyph origin appears to have been lost. At least as far as I can tell after researching offline books, zhongwen.com, and ...
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2answers
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乐 Le and Yue: When did they diverge?

In the character 乐, it has two readings in Mandarin. In pinyin, yue4 and le4 (plus other readings I take are literary) In other dialects too, there seem to be 2 distinct forms. In cantonese, lok and ...
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2answers
545 views

Roots of the difference between 谈,论,说,讲,议, 叙,言,报,告,述

All those talk, discuss, chat and ect. In any language there are a lot of words expressing different connotation of people speaking. In my own language (russian) there are lot's of them BUT I can ...
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2answers
244 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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7answers
2k views

Where to look for history and etymology of Chinese characters? For example 工

Is there a website where I can look for history and etymology of Chinese characters? For example 工. It can be a Chinese website (I am VERY new to Chinese). But better in English. Please also drop ...
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1answer
182 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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2answers
184 views

二 Mandarin pronunciation vs. other dialects and Japanese

Since I started learning Japanese a while ago, I always found the onyomi pronunciation of 二, being 'ni', unusual compared to the Mandarin pronunciation of 'èr'. The Old and Middle Chinese ...
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2answers
230 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
61 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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2answers
121 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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1answer
261 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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4answers
343 views

What's the relationship between 炮 and 砲?

炮 and 砲 both mean "cannon", but it seems the former is much more common, and the latter only really seen in Xiangqi. Is there a difference in meaning? For example, on wikipedia it is said that 砲 ...
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2answers
287 views

减/減 (Reduce/Subtract/Decrease/Diminish): What's it got to do with water?

So here we have 冫+咸 (or 氵+咸) = 减(減). 减(減) means something along the lines of reduce/subtract/decrease/diminish or what have you. What has water got to do with this though? Logically one would ...
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2answers
171 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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3answers
742 views

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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4answers
334 views

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
2k views

Etymology of 奴隶 (Slave)

I vaguely remember hearing somebody make observations about the word 奴隶 (slave). I would like to verify the impressions of the person who was speaking as being factual or just his impressions. What is ...
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4answers
542 views

Why is the radical of 难 > 隹 and not 又?

难 nan2, difficult; hard. Kangxi radical 172 隹. My teacher says the radical for this character is 又 but the dictionary says clearly it's 隹.
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5answers
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Why isn't 四 four lines? (the origin of 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九)

A common experience of beginner hanzi students is their raised hopes and expectations when they learn 一 二 三 - "what a wonderfully elegant language!" - which are promptly crushed when they encounter 四. ...