Questions tagged [etymology]

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

Filter by
Sorted by
Tagged with
46
votes
7answers
3k views

Why is 有 (yǒu) the only verb that requires 没 while other verbs can use 不?

To negate something, we use 不 (bù) before the verb, such as in this short dialogue: A: 你是老师吗?= Are you a teacher? B: 不是。= I'm not. However, the verb 有 (yǒu) is the only one that requires 没 (méi) ...
27
votes
9answers
3k views

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". ...
15
votes
11answers
650 views

What etymology dictionaries are available?

What dictionaries (online, software-based or in paper form) explain the origins of a word and its evolution over time? E.g. how the character was once written, how the usage – and the meaning – ...
11
votes
4answers
3k views

Reasons for Chinese changing from monosyllabic to disyllabic?

Classical and Middle Chinese are often considered monosyllabic languages - most words are single syllables. Modern Chinese however is considered disyllabic - most words are two syllables. For example,...
14
votes
3answers
955 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?
8
votes
4answers
593 views

认识 vs 知道 based on glyph origins

I'm trying to understand what 识 means and why 认识 is different from 知道. As far as I was able to gather the information on 戠 is a depiction of an armed group of people which, while in battle, should be ...
8
votes
6answers
805 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 ...
26
votes
4answers
2k views

Why is 足 both “foot” and “enough”?

足 is an ancient character meaning "foot". However, it also means "enough" or "sufficient", and this second definition is also very old. Consider this excerpt: 兵甲已足。——诸葛亮《出师表》 This is from 《出师表》, ...
22
votes
5answers
39k views

What is the exact meaning of 吃豆腐, and where does the expression come from?

I'm not talking about eating tofu, but the expression that means something more like taking advantage of someone. What exactly does 吃豆腐 mean, and where does this expression come from?
8
votes
4answers
781 views

What was this online dictionary's name with ancient traditional and simplified characters and glyph origins? [duplicate]

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 ...
14
votes
3answers
1k views

Do 之 and 的 come from the same word?

In modern Chinese 之 is thought of as the literary genitive particle and 的 as the colloquial. In most reconstructions of Old Chinese 之 looks very similar to the way 的 is pronounced now. For example in ...
16
votes
6answers
1k views

When is it appropriate to address a lady as 先生?

Chairman Mao addressed Soong Ching-ling as 宋庆龄先生. Yang Jiang was also addressed as 杨绛先生 by the public. My dad used to tell me to address some of his female colleagues as 先生 too. I wonder why a lady ...
10
votes
1answer
745 views

Pronunciation of 和 in Taiwan

This is something that I noticed in Taiwanese Mandarin TV series and films. It seems that they pronounce this character as hàn instead of the commonly accepted hé. For example, 我和你 is pronounced wǒ ...
9
votes
2answers
347 views

Questions on “的话”

What is the etymology behind "的话" in the common construct 如果...的话 or 要是...的话? In addition to wondering about it's meaning, what exactly is the 的 doing? Is it modifying the 如果? Is it modifying the ...
8
votes
2answers
609 views

Etymology of 二百五?

二百五 is Chinese slang for an idiot, but how did it come about? What's the earliest recorded usage of this term in this meaning? There are many theories for its origin, this page lists as many as 6 ...
16
votes
2answers
989 views

Are 乒 and 乓 used in classical chinese?

乒乓 is the modern word for ping pong, based around onomatopoeia (and similarity to 兵 for phonetic element) and, as some people claim, shape. I was wondering if this shape explanation is true, or little ...
9
votes
4answers
891 views

What is the origin of 甩锅 (“to pass the buck”)?

I've been hearing 甩锅 (shuǎiguō) used to describe how US president Trump often blames others (currently the WHO). It means "to shift the blame" or "to pass the buck". I'm interested in its etymology. ...
4
votes
2answers
676 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 ...
35
votes
11answers
6k 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-style ...
29
votes
5answers
3k views

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 ...
26
votes
6answers
5k views

Why is Russia translated to 俄罗斯(E Luo Si)?

The Chinese Wikipedia article describes the name of Russia, and many of its historical Chinese exonyms. 按照俄语发音“Россия”,其名称应翻译为“羅西亚”。元朝时根据蒙古语译为「斡羅思」[b],到清朝初年许多文献中曾称为「羅剎」[c],但在以国家相称时则多译为「鄂羅斯」[d]或「...
15
votes
4answers
1k views

What does “老” in “老虎” and “老鼠” mean

As I remember, 虎 and 鼠 are standalone nouns, meaning tiger and mouse, respectively. However, it seems that 老虎 and 老鼠 are more commonly used. Why is 老 used as a prefix for 虎 and 鼠? Why do we use 獅子 ...
12
votes
3answers
4k views

How are new words added to the Chinese language?

I'm always curious to know, as the world develops and new words come into existence, how are they adopted by the Chinese language? Is there some sort of government body that decides these sort of ...
18
votes
8answers
1k views

Why is 两 used for quantities of two rather than 二?

I understand that 两 is used instead of 二 when dealing with quantities of two. However, my question is - why? What are the historical reasons behind this? I looked at Wikitionary but it only had ...
14
votes
2answers
9k views

The origins of “AA制”

Every since I learned the expression AA制*, I have been curious as to its origins. The morphology seems clear enough: AA + 制(定) = "to draw up (the bill) in an AA way". What is not clear is how AA ...
6
votes
5answers
7k 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 ...
13
votes
7answers
1k 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 ...
12
votes
5answers
2k views

Why does 有机 as in 有机食品 mean organic?

有 and 机 are some of the first characters we learn in Chinese, but only recently did I find out that they mean "organic" when put together. Can anyone explain why this is?
9
votes
3answers
592 views

Why did China opt for 星期 over 曜日?

Korea and Japan seem to have a week system that looks like this: Monday 月曜日 Tuesday 火曜日 Wednesday 水曜日 Thursday 木曜日 Friday 金曜日 Saturday 土曜日 Sunday 日曜日 China apparently used to be the same as well. 星期 ...
8
votes
4answers
786 views

Glyph origin of 也

I've already done some research on the character 也, but I haven't find something that pleased me. I've seen explanations going from "horn" and "snake" to "vulva" and "around". Where did it come from? ...
7
votes
2answers
489 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 ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

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 ...
13
votes
2answers
452 views

What is the first attested use of 美國/美国 in the sense of 'America' in Chinese?

The beginnings of Sino-American relations date back to the late 18th century (e.g. the Old China Trade). When did the Chinese begin to refer to America (or the US) as 美國/美国? Were there alternative ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

What is the origin of '日' as a curse word?

I read a bunch of answers on 百度知道 but they are all very vague, indecisive and unauthoritative. 1 为什么人们喜欢用那字,那是因为用的人多,人们大多都没有自己的想法,别人说什么,别人什么说地多,他觉得不用就是落伍了。就这样,时间一长就很多人在说了,而且觉得自己特牛,会用那字。恨不能见谁都说。...
12
votes
2answers
460 views

What is the etymology of “商” in “商数”

"商数" is usually translated as "quotient" in both its mathematical and common usage forms (eg in "智商"/intelligence quotient, which is in fact an actual quotient.). What is the etymology of "商", and ...
11
votes
5answers
822 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, ...
11
votes
6answers
988 views

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 ...
8
votes
3answers
762 views

Is the character 年 (or its etymology) related to the mythical beast in Chinese mythology?

Premise: According to the mythology related to the Chinese New Year, a creature called 年 (also referred to as 年兽 — pinyin: nián shòu — 年獸 in Traditional chinese) was a mythical beast that "lived under ...
8
votes
6answers
1k views

犬子: who's the dog?

犬子 (literally, dog + son) is an archaic, self-depreciatory term to refer to your son (occasionally it's used to insult other people's sons). This answer raises a question though; who is the dog ...
8
votes
4answers
2k views

Origin of beautiful kingdom and hero kingdom

Why in Mandarin chinese, USA is beautiful kingdom and England is hero kingdom?
4
votes
2answers
205 views

Development of 輸

The character 輸 was originally pronounced yu (indicated by the right side phonetic) and meant to transport. How did it come to be pronounced shu (Mandarin) and take on the meaning of to lose?
3
votes
1answer
280 views

Where did the words for various colours originate from?

I wonder if, like in 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
204 views

How do I find the rules used to create the simplified version of the characters?

OK, some of the characters we know come from the regularization of the cursive form, like the radical 言 became 讠, etc. But how do I find how some really weird characters came from, like 舊->旧, 靈->灵, 異->...
11
votes
4answers
454 views

Etymology of 汉语

I knew a Chinese woman who taught me a lot about Chinese languages. One of them was about 汉语's etymology. I was told that all parts of these characters had a meaning connected to the History of ...
10
votes
4answers
407 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 ...
10
votes
4answers
978 views

Why is the 会 in 会计 pronounced kuài?

The character 会 has two different pronunciations; usually it is huì but in 会计 it is pronounced kuài. It seems that the latter pronunciation is exclusively used in the "accounting" meaning. How did ...
6
votes
1answer
372 views

Is 勺 really the phonetic component of 的?

The etymology of 的 is described here. Is this resource correct is saying that 勺 is this character's phonetic component? I ask because it doesn't seem to hint at the correct pronunciation at all. 勺 is ...
6
votes
1answer
292 views

Why is there a special pronunciation of 论 just for 论语?

The character 论 has pinyin lùn for all uses except in 论语 where it is lún. Is there some known historical reason for this change in pronunciation?
5
votes
2answers
804 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
523 views

What is the origin of the character 对/對?

I've been studying the etymology of characters lately, and I'm stuck trying to figure out how 对/對 is formed. It is apparently a compound of 丵 (zhuó; grass, bush) and 寸 (cùn; inch, thumb), plus an ...