Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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142 views

What does 「產」 in 「資產」 actually mean?

This question stems from some thoughts I've been having while reading Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad Poor Dad". In the book, Kiyosaki defines "asset" as something that puts money in ...
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1answer
1k views

Is there any sun 日 in 昌?

I've been seeing conflicting explanations for this character 昌. Some sources say it comprised of two suns 日, some sources say it comprises of sun and speak 日 meaning flourish, though I don't really ...
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113 views

Why does 身体 mean both “body” and “health”?

I've seen a curious Chinese word 身体. At first, I have discovered that it means 'body' and is a word with a broader meaning in comparison to 身材 or 体格. But I never understood why it means 'body' or, yet ...
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107 views

What is the etymology of the word nǚ (woman) and is it related to Proto-Uralic *niŋä (woman)?

There are many Chinese etymology dictionaries available in English which focus on the origin of the characters. I haven't been able to locate one on-line which provides information on the etymology ...
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111 views

How did 客气 come to mean “polite”? [duplicate]

The literal meaning of 客气 would seem to be something like "air guest." How did that transform into "polite"? And is there a resource I can turn to to find out such things?
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174 views

How Did 是 Come to Mean “To Be”?

I have been looking into the etymology of the character 是. The site Chinese Etymology notes that this character was: "originally meaning straight or correct. The sun 旦 rises or 早 in the correct 正 ...
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125 views

How does 周到 mean “thoughtful”?

I'm trying to learn the few remaining HSK5 words I haven't fully learned yet. This one I keep forgetting: 周到 (zhōu​dào / zhōu​dao) CC-CEDICT: thoughtful / considerate / attentive / thorough It ...
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198 views

Glyph origin of 款

Where does this character 款 come from? Its meanings (model/style or fee/payment) doesn't seem to have any link to the semantic part 欠, unless it specifically refers to owed money/payment? And what ...
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1answer
87 views

How old is the term 哲学 as a name for philosophy?

This zh.wikipedia article describes the etymology of 哲学 by first relating it to the English word from the Greek meaning "love of wisdom." But then that article also refers to ancient ...
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What's the logic behind the word 从事?

Usually Chinese words are not made up of random characters, but instead have some kind of underlying logic. Moreover, understanding this logic makes it easier to remember and use the word. However, ...
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152 views

Why is “tuberculosis” 结核病 in Chinese?

结核病 (jié​hé​bìng) CC-CEDICT: tuberculosis I don't understand why tuberculosis is called this in Chinese. Breaking this apart, we have: 结: knot / sturdy / bond / to tie / to bind / to check out (of ...
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142 views

𦰩 and 難 glyph origins. Did 难/難 used to be a bird?

Apologies if my question is too similar to the one in Why is the radical of 难 > 隹 and not 又? The link in there is broken unfortunately and I am unable to find the source. This character for ...
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162 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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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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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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901 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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364 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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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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354 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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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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108 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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74 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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89 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
61 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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57 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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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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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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37 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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39 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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99 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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44 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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59 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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60 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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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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1answer
127 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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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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39 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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33 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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1answer
77 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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34 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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99 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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64 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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142 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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40 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
59 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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274 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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110 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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45 views

For 佩, what semantic notions underlie “to wear” and “to admire”?

I Googled-translated CUHK, but I don't think they or Yellowbridge expounds the semantic shift to "admire" or "respect"? I read Any direct English equivalent for "佩服"?. I ...

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