Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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47
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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) ...
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11answers
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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". ...
28
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6answers
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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, ...
27
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4answers
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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》, ...
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6answers
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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「...
23
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5answers
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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?
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4answers
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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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8answers
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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 ...
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6answers
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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 ...
16
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11answers
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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 – ...
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2answers
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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 ...
16
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4answers
356 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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7answers
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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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4answers
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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 ...
14
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3answers
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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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3answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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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 ...
13
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14answers
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Does 危机 really mean both crisis and opportunity?

A lot of people, mostly those who haven't studied Chinese, like to claim something along the lines of "In Chinese, the word for crisis 危机, also bears the meaning of opportunity." This is usually ...
13
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2answers
470 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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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6answers
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快: why does “fast” also mean “happy”?

The character 快 is usually used for the meaning of "fast", but it is also used in the sense of "pleasant" or "happy" - for example, in the words 痛快, 爽快. It seems that both meanings are quite ancient. ...
12
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5answers
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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?
12
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1answer
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How come 東/东 has a second meaning 'owner/master' or 'host'?

Examples include 房东 or 财东 and 东道, respectively. What is the etymology behind this additional meaning?
12
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2answers
504 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 ...
12
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4answers
335 views

Origin of 乎 as a bound morpheme in words such as 热乎

Here are a couple compound words that end with 乎: 热乎, 温乎, 確乎, 玄乎, 忙乎, 晕乎, 近乎, 热乎乎, 傻乎乎. Is there an understanding of how 乎 became used in these words? Does it have any relation to the classical ...
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3answers
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Anyone know why cellphones are called 大哥大 in Taiwan?

I was looking at Singapore Mandarin from the question here on Hong Kong Mandarin and came across the word for cellphone. I know it's popular now to refer to cellphones as 手机 but I remember in Taiwan ...
12
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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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3answers
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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。...
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5answers
2k views

How is adding oil going to beneficial to the situation? 加油

Is anyone able to explain the history behind this cheer? At the face of it I'm unsure how this could be a cheer as 加 translate to add/plus/apply and 油 translates to oil/fat/grease you would think ...
11
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2answers
1k views

Is there any connection between the choice of characters for 九 and 丸?

I just learned the character 丸 and naturally noticed that it is similar to 九 with the additional 点. Is there any interesting connection between these two characters or is it just a random coincidence ...
11
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5answers
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Why does the word 萌 mean “cute”?

A friend of mine said in a photo of me, my eyes looked very 萌(meng2). 你的眼睛很萌 My dictionary defines 萌 as; 萌 méng (动) sprout; bud; germinate But apparently in this context it means "...
11
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1answer
597 views

Why does 息 mean news?

Why does 息 mean news? The chraracter's etymology suggest it means "rest" - "From nose indicating breath and also phonetic 自 and heart or chest 心. Meaning to rest." Source: http://chineseetymology....
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4answers
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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,...
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4answers
539 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 ...
11
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5answers
896 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
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4answers
969 views

Etymology of 他妈的

I've seen mention of this word a few time. In English it is clear how certain words became swear words; f..., sh.. and damn all have very strong meanings in their literal sense; the former two being ...
11
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2answers
374 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
476 views

Why does Mandarin Chinese have a smaller inventory of unique syllables?

From How languages compare with the number of different syllables from all words?, considering the 20,000 most frequent words in each language, Mandarin Chinese has 1274 different syllables (see also ...
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6answers
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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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3answers
538 views

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 ...
10
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2answers
2k 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 ...
10
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3answers
6k views

哪儿 vs. 哪里, Difference in Meaning?

Is there any difference in meaning between 哪儿 and 哪里? If not, then how did the two different words come to be employed? Does 儿 have a meaning, or is it just a sound? I know that there are many '...
10
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3answers
407 views

Origin of -的干活?

There is a facetious phrase for asking someone what they do, using "的干活", most commonly in the fragment "什么的干活", or in this example exchange: A: 你的,什么的干活? (Who are you?) B: 我的,...
10
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4answers
1k 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 ...
10
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1answer
928 views

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 ...
10
votes
1answer
499 views

Why is “steak” 肉排?

肉排 is Chinese for steak (e.g. 牛排 or 猪排 for beef steak and pork steak), but where did the 排 come from? As a Western cuisine dish, did the word have some roundabout origin? 排 means row/rank, which has ...
10
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3answers
644 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 ...
10
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6answers
328 views

案: why is a bench also a case?

Sorry about the cryptic title. 案 is a character that can mean "bench"/"desk" but it can also mean "(legal) case" or "file": 长形的桌子或架起来代替桌子用的长木板:~子。~板。书~。条~。拍~而起。...

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