Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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131 views

What semantic notions underlie “durable; to endure” (耐) with “about 3 cm”, “tiny” (寸)?

CUHK doesn't expound the semantic shift. Doesn't 寸 contradict 耐? Humans usually "endure" or "resist" what's hefty and strong, not objects that are "tiny" and merely "...
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97 views

How did 毋 + 乃 compound to mean “it's none other than”?

When I first happened upon 毋乃, I first guessed its meaning as "not this". Then I consulted p 1007, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly ...
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75 views

For phonosemantic 和, what semantic notions underlie “mouth” and “harmony”?

How did 口 (mouth, opening) semantically shift to mean harmony for 和? CUHK doesn't expound. Synopsis  : 「和」字從「口」,「禾」聲,表示和諧。 Elaboration: 金文從「口」,「禾」聲,表示和睦、和洽,中山王圓壺:「馭右和同」,《禮記.孔子閒居》:「無體之禮,上下和同。」《左傳....
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How does “the copula 惟” distinguish the meanings of negation for 非 v. 不?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. p 253. I understand copulas for English, but not for Chinese here. Anyways, ...
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49 views

What semantic notions underlie “to think; to contemplate”, with “but; however; nevertheless” with “only”?

I know that meaning 3 originates from 忄 used here as the semantic component (Yellowbridge exhibits this more clearly below). But how did 3 semantically shift to 1, 2? Their lexical categories all ...
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115 views

How did 無 originate from “a dancer holding something in each hand”?

If someone, dancer or not, is holding something in each hand, how can 無 possibly describe him? His hands are not 無! I also screenshot Yellowbridge.
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How did the compound 莫 + 非 semantically shift to mean “can it be/is it possible + that”?

ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 628. I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. 莫非 - Wiktionary appears correct. Am I correct that 莫 here means 3 ...
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114 views

What semantic notions underlie 'hem, margin; reason, cause; karma, fate' for 緣?

p 1194, ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003). I can't access the "slightly revised through July 2005" ed. Sset 3 originates from the semantic radical 糸. How did Set 3 (the ...
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142 views

How could've 叻 originated from 頔, 犖, 𥌮, when they share no etymons?

2, 3, 4 and their etymons don't appear related to 口 + 力 morphologically. I spot the "uncertain" below, so I'm not seeking anything certain or definite. Glyph origin Phono-semantic ...
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72 views

Can anybody identify these chop markings or calligraphy please (Characters identified: 季康長壽 寧復畫記)

I have been given a scroll not sure if it is chinese or Japanese but I know it is over fifty years old. I am trying to find out more about it such as the artist and what the writing says.
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112 views

How comes the word 偶像 is related to worship?

As I read the Bible, 偶像 means the idols made by man and being worshiped. As I know there are 3 meaning of the word 偶像: 木偶 & 雕像, used in different proposes such as decoration art performance the ...
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Etymology of 碼頭

I was just wondering about the Chinese words for 'Ferry Pier' 碼頭. If we take the word, 馬頭, it means horse's head. 碼頭 has the 石 or rock character in it. I wanted to confirm, is it possible then that ...
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475 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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What's the meaning of 戒 in 戒指?

On a lighter note: Does 戒 in 戒指 mean: you can stop using your finger now you are married? With this ring I thee wed.
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105 views

Did 謠's phonetic component (䍃) semantically shift it away from 言?

You can spot that (the left-hand side of) 謠 originates from 言. I screenshot Yellowbridge. Did the phonetic component 䍃 spawn, or have anything to do with, the semantic narrowing from 言 to 謠? If not,...
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How did the hedgehog come to mean gather?

词汇 means vocabulary or words and phrases. In traditional characters (I noticed today) that would be: 詞彙 and 彙 is a word for hedgehog (刺猬)。(詞彙: word hedgehog) Did the ancient Chinese gather hedgehogs? ...
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What is the etymology of Chinese tense words?

So according to Wikipedia and other sources, Chinese was a tenseless language. It has aspects and moods that refer to time frames, but not tense itself. This suggests to me that the nouns expressing ...
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What's the relationship between “separate” and “eight” (old and modern meanings of 八)?

Zhongwen.com says that 八 is an "ideograph representing division", what is easy to see. So the old meaning of "separate" is also clear. But how did it came to represent the number 8?...
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What semantic notions underlie 'wet, moist' and 'profit'?

I chanced upon two Chinese characters that signify both water with profit, but how can they possibly relate to each other semantically? Have the Chinese traditionally privatized or invested in water? ...
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Understanding 照相 and 照片

I am having some confusion about 照相 and 照片. In my Chinese lesson they introduced them: 照片 Zhào piàn (noun) photo 照相 Zhào xiàng (verb) to take a picture They also showed this example: 我照了几百张照片。 I ...
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Is 纟 obtained by simplification of 糸 ?

Neither纟 nor 糸 are used as words in modern Chinese, i know the word for silk is 丝( trad 絲). Many radicals in the list of 214 kangxi radicals have both traditional and simplified character, but that ...
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How did 贼 come to mean “extremely”?

While watching a tv show, I heard the presenter, a Beijinger, say 贼好. In that particular context, the only possible meaning was 很好. Later I did some research and, as a matter of fact, it turns out 贼 ...
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Relation between「帳」and「賬」

「賬」is said to be a derivative character (分化字) of「帳」, itself being a derivative character of「張」. The meaning of「帳」is related to tents, screens, or curtains: 《玉篇》帷也,張也,幬也。 「賬」has meanings relating to ...
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101 views

How did 'velcro' get translated to 魔术贴 ('magic attachment??')

This is one of the most interesting translations i've encountered. The '... + 贴' pattern is understandable, but how did '魔术' (magic) get there? The only other word I know that has been translated as '...
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937 views

Why does “I go” also mean damn it? (我去)

According to MDBG, 我去 is slang, meaning "shoot" or "dang." But obviously, it also means "I go." Does anyone know the etymology of this? Did it arise from people angrily saying that they're so upset ...
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What is the meaning behind 川皇, which is some kind of slang for “Donald Trump”?

On Reddit's r/China_irl, I saw a poll about the US election in November. What surprised me is that Donald Trump seems to be called 川皇. Searching for 川皇 on Google indicates it's not just a typo, so I'...
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How did the word “ketchup” come into the English language?

Apparently, there are three primary theories regarding its introduction into the English language from Chinese. The former is from the Cantonese "keh jap" or equivalently 茄汁, literally translating as ...
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How did 炒 semantically shift to mean 'speculate' and 'perform badly (in a test or exam)'?

to stir fry; to sauté 炒飯、炒麵 / 炒饭、炒面 [Cantonese]  ―  caau2 faan6, caau2 min6 [Jyutping]  ―  fried rice; chow mein (slang) to sack; to fire ⇒ 炒魷魚 (Cantonese) to speculate in 炒股票 [...
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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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Why is 刻 used to mean ''a quarter of an hour''?

刻 means ''to carve'' but my dictionary also says it means ''to set a time limit''. What is the connection between 刻 and a quarter of an hour ?
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356 views

Why is 秘书 (lit. “secret book”) the Chinese word for “secretary”?

For some reason 秘书 (mìshū) is the Chinese word for "secretary"; it breaks up into: 秘 (mì) = secret (long version: 秘密 (mìmì) = secret); 书 (shū) = book. I feel like there's a etymological story here. ...
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What semantic field underlies 即?

I can grasp how卩 (“to kneel”) relates to definitions 1-3 below. But how does 皀 + 卩 compound to mean definitions 4-14 that don't relate to food or kneeling and that all differ from each other? ...
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What semantic notions underlie 妥 (suitable') with 爫 (爪 or claw) and 女?

Reading 穩妥's etymology spurred me to read 妥's. I screenshot Yellowbridge. I truly hope this etymology doesn't relate to the inhumane barbarism of foot binding in China! Translingual Han character 妥 (...
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What semantic notions underlie 駁 (to rebut) with 馬 (horses) and/or 爻 (I Ching's hexagrams)?

I'm trying to understand the etymology for definition 3 (to rebut) below in 駁 - Wiktionary. Yellowbridge: Han character 駁 (radical 187, 馬+4, 14 strokes, cangjie input 尸火大大 (SFKK), four-corner 74340, ...
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What semantic notions underlie 頁 ('page') with '預' ('beforehand')?

I'm especially baffled because 'page' is physical, but 'beforehand' isn't physical. I screenshot Yellowbridge and quote 預 - Wiktionary. Phono-semantic compound (形聲, OC *las): phonetic 予 (OC *la, *...
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What semantic field underlies 涵 for it to mean 'soak, immerse' and 'tolerate, be lenient'?

Fortunately I can guess a possible ratiocination of this etymology: 5 Houseplants You Can’t Kill by Overwatering. Because these plants won't die even if soaked, immersed, or wet, they can tolerate, ...
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What semantic notions underlie 心 ('heart') with 惑 ('to confuse')?

I know that managing your emotions can save your heart, and "when your emotions adversely affect your brain, your heart is affected as well." Yet how does 心 semantically relate to 惑? Many ...
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How did 涉 semantically shift to mean 'to experience, be involved'?

What semantic notions underlie definition 1 below with 2 and 3? Do the Chinese customarily "experience" ford streams? I can't imagine how "ford streams" would attract tourists. I ...
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239 views

How does 雲 + 朵 compound to mean 'your letter'?

Neither compoud means 'your' or 'letter'. 雲 means 'cloud'. 朵's semantic field is: Etymology 1 “Hanging from a tree” > “flower” > classifier for flowers. Probably from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *(d/n)...
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What is the etymologically correct character for the Min-Nan words for meat (bah)?

In both the teoswa and hokkien, the common word for meat is pronounced something like /baʔ/. I.e., it has a voiced initial stop (not like pinyin "b") and a glottal final. This doesn't seem ...
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103 views

How does the hook in 甩 negative 用's meaning?

I read 甩 - Wiktionary, and screenshot Yellowbridge. 甩 appears the antonym of 用, and the hook (that I marked with the green arrow) appears the only difference between their logograms. What's the ...
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How did 黑鍋 “black wok” semantically shift to mean “blame for a crime”?

https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/38716 spurred this question. 黑鍋 - Wiktionary (literally) black wok (figuratively) blame for a crime How did "black wok" semantically shift to mean ...
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Why isn't the Vietnam War called e.g. 抗美战争 (“Resistance War Against America”) like in Vietnamese?

The Vietnam War is considered by some (most?) Vietnamese people as a fight against US-led invasion of Vietnam. Hence... The Vietnam War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Việt Nam), also known ... in ...
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Is 賖 just a variant of 賒?

賒 is clearly defined as “delaying payment for something” in Chinese dictionaries; it commonly appears in the phrase “賒帳”, which has a similar meaning. 賖 is a Chữ Nôm used to write “xa” in Vietnamese,...
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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. ...
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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 ...
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Is there an etymological connection between 只得 (zhǐdé) = “be obliged to” and 得 (děi) = “to have to”?

I'm not sure if this is just a coincidence, but there's two related words: 只得 (zhǐdé) = "be obliged to" 得 (děi) = "to have to" They have similar meanings, and share the character 得 (although with ...
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1answer
144 views

History of the pronunciation of 辰

Today, it is pronounced chén in Mandarin. However, in Chữ Nôm, this character is used for the sound thì. This is surprising, since most Chữ Nôm characters either borrow the meaning of existing ...
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144 views

Is the similar pronunciation of 上班, 办公 and 工作 just a coincidence?

Three important words when talking about work are 上班 (shàng bān, to go to work) 办公 (bàn gōng, to work [esp. in an office]) 工作 (gōng zuò, job / work) This can be confusing for beginners - I often get ...
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259 views

姐 vs 姊, etymology, and their English equivalences

Sometimes 姐 and 姊 are interchangeable, sometimes 姐 and 姊 have different meanings. Can we summarize their usages? What is their etymology? And can we find their English equivalences? It looks that ...

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