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Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about the origin and history of Chinese words.

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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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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
536 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
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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
53 views

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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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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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
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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
95 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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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
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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
128 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
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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4answers
791 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
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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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6answers
503 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
255 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
254 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
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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
531 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
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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
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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
175 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
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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
220 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
54 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
112 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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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
336 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
161 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
729 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
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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
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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
534 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. ...
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3answers
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What is the oldest retracable meaning for the character/word 臾?

臾 (yu2) in classical Chinese means "for a while". I assume "for a while" was not the original meaning this character was associated with in the time when it came, by what mysterious brain activity ...
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3answers
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Does the beta like character (as in 陳, 附 and many more) in Chinese have a special meaning?

It probably doesn't. I tried searching but couldn't find one. But would be great if it does! Would help me remember so many new words. I hope somebody has figured out a pedagogical role of that ...
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1answer
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Glyph origins: are explanations in such dictionaries authoritative or just later vague interpretations?

I know this topic has been discussed in quite a few questions post on this site. My question concerns the 'authoritativeness' of such glyph origins based on the decomposition of characters. Here's ...
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What was this online dictionary's name with ancient traditional and simplified characters and glyph origins?

I once found a Mandarin Chinese dictionary which for each character listed the ancient, the traditional and the simplified Chinese characters. For each it described its meaning and how it developed ...
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1answer
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How is the Kanji character 豚 related to the chinese 猪 / 豬

The Chinese character for pig is 猪 / 豬 (zhu1) In many Japanese restaurants around Hong Kong I've seen this somewhat different character 豚 which appears to also mean pig. How would you say it in ...
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2answers
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Pattern in the Chinese numbers 1 to 9

I know a lot of Chinese characters are either a symbol of something or a combination of symbols in the space of one character, so what's the origin of the symbol for numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9? since ...
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11answers
5k views

Etymology of the Chinese number characters (一二三四五六七八九十百千)

Main Question: What is the glyph origin of the Chinese number characters (一二三四五六七八九十百千)? Related question: Why isn't 四 four lines? (the origin of 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九) I decide to write a Q&A-...
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1answer
123 views

Comparative Glyph Origins Of (Visually) Close Characters

As part of my learning experience, I am taking the useful advice someone offered and examining the many different tools available to learn more characters. To that effect, I am keying in the ...
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2answers
207 views

Is there any website of where I can look up the origins of a Chinese character? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What etymology dictionaries are available? What was this online dictionary's name with ancient traditional and simplified characters and etymology? I always wanted to see ...
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1answer
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殊: Why 歺(歹)+朱? How did it get to mean special (in a good way)?

How did 殊, as in: 特殊、殊技、殊荣、殊勋、殊遇、殊遇 come to have it's meaning of special? 歺(歹)+朱 paint out a rather, more, grim meaning if anything... 說文解字: 死也。从歺朱聲。漢令曰:“蠻夷長有罪,當殊之。”市朱切 How did 殊 get to mean ...