Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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156 views

Can “Tiananmen” be read as “gate to heaven”?

Tian'anmen can be read as a gate to heaven Philosophical Vegan, web forum Is that true? Can Tiananmen (天安門) really mean "gate to heaven"? I have researched it a bit, the name "Tiananmen" (天安門) ...
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Meaning of 火冒三丈

What is the meaning and literal translation of this phrase or idiom? I have not has a clear understand of this base on dictionary searches and web searches. Example sentence would be helpful.
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How did 背后 come to mean “behind one's back” both literally and figuratively, like in English?

背后 is used to mean "behind one's back" both literally: 你要是口渴,在门背后你能找到水。 If you're thirsty, behind the door you can find water. Jukuu.com and figuratively (in the sense of backstabbing): ...
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290 views

Glyph origins of the character 岁/歲?

I teach a basic class in Mandarin to kids. They enjoy seeing where characters came from. I will be teaching them how to express their ages soon and hence the character 岁. Is there an interesting ...
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683 views

What is the history of the character “耻”?

The meaning of the word is “shame”. I often encounter the version which is written with a 止, but sometimes I confuse it with 恥. It seems that the meanings of 耻 and 恥 are both the same, just that one ...
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174 views

How did three characters for _de_ emerge?

I understand that there are three characters for de depending on the usage: 跑得快 快地跑 快的车 Would anyone know how it evolved into different characters when the purpose and pronunciation are similar?
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What's the etymology of 巴士海峽?

The wikipedia article on the strait in English (the Bashi Strait) doesn't say.
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106 views

What is the origin of 火黑暗?

What is the origin of 火黑暗? According to wikipedia it comes from the Zangshu, "Book of Burial", but no where in that book (or anywhere else) can I find this supposed phrase: "Qi vapors in the fire, ...
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593 views

Why do the onomatopoeias describing the cry of frogs sound so different in Chinese and English?

The words "呱呱" and "ribbit" are onomatopoeias that represent the sound of frogs, respectively in Chinese and English. I hardly see any similarity between these two sounds. Why does ...
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How did 綿蠻 come to mean “(the chirping of) a small bird”?

This word exists in Japanese as well as 綿蛮, but as far as I can tell the compound just carries the meaning of "cotton barbarian". I am completely stumped as to how this in any way means "a small bird" ...
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The origin of 勾 and 股 in The Pythagorean Theorem 勾股定理

The Chinese name for the Pythagorean Theorem is 勾股定理 Take a right angle triangle ABC Let side AB be the shortest side. Let AC be the second shortest side. BC is therefore the longest side and the ...
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What sickness was 瘦?

“Skinny” (瘦) is clearly written with a sickness radical (病字旁): 疒. Outlier, also, writes the following in its definition: FORM 瘦 shòu is composed of 叟 sǒu and 疒 “to be sick, not well,” pointing ...
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Dictionaries suggest 透 (tou) is pictophonetic where 秀 (xiu) provides the sound. Is this through a classical chinese pronunciation?

I have several resources and dictionaries that suggest the word 透 (tou) is pictophonetic where 辶 (chuo) suggests the meaning and 秀(xiu) provides the sound. This confuses me because 透 and 秀 do not seem ...
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What is the origin of 没 as an alternative to 不? [duplicate]

Why is the verb 有 negated by 没 instead of 不 ? Is there some historical reason or was it just a strange accident ?
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242 views

What “斗” refers to in “正斗”

The Cantonese term "正斗" means "great" or "of high quality" 正斗 an exclamation that sth is "great!" ~ 正斗 好,美,正牌,正規,地道,純正,漂亮,質量好 I can understand why 正(...
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Etymology behind the phrase 恭喜发财 (Kung Hei Fat Choy) and its usage during Chinese New Year?

Where did the phrase 恭喜发财 (Kung Hei Fat Choy) come from? And why is it so popularly used during Chinese New Year? I knew it was first popularised in Canton areas probably around 18~19th century. ...
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Why does anger has something to do with spleen in both Chinese and English?

The English word spleen has two meanings in Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, an organ near the stomach which produces and cleans the body's blood. a feeling of anger and disagreement. ...
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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->...
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Is 邏輯 a phono-semantic matching of the English word logic?

Wiktionary has the following entry for the etymology of 邏輯: Phono-semantic matching of English logic. However, the Chinese Wikipedia entry states the following: 當代中文一般採取音譯方式,將其譯為邏輯。 Which ...
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Was the character 蹦 (in 蹦极 “bungee jumping”) designed to look like people bungee jumping?

I find myself fascinated by the character 蹦 in the word 蹦极 (meaning "bungee jumping"). It combines: the radical 足 (meaning "foot"), in the character 跳 meaning "jump"; ...
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192 views

What is the glyph origin of 克?

I've looked around and one place says it's from the skin of an animal, another one says it's an axe striking a beast and another one says it's a battle helmet with an animal skin. So what's the story ...
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What is the Chinese origin of “kai shao”

I’ve seen people explain the custom of relatives and friends to introduce potential future partners, and referring to it in English as “kai shao”. What is the Chinese origin for this? The closest I ...
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Where did 𨷶 originate from?

I was looking up the Vietnamese word cửa hàng. Hàng Seems fairly straight forward as it used to be written with the Chinese character 行 and pronunciation is quite similar also. Cửa is not as simple; ...
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Etymology of glyph 袭 = dragon + clothes?

I am new here, recently discovered this site to learn more about glyph origins of certain characters. I often see this character 袭 when related to terrorist attacks in the news. 袭 means raid or ...
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察尔汗: Mongolian and Tibetan transcription into Chinese

Apologies that this is a bit off the main focus of the forum, but there aren't any Mongolian or Tibetan stacks yet. There are dozens to hundreds of Chinese sites repeating each other that Qarhan (察尔汗)...
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Meaning of the elements of 爵 (baron)

The 4 elements of this character are well known (claw/plectrum; net; north-east; short measurement), but I cannot see any connection between them that might result in the concept of 'baron'. Can ...
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兹 as a phonetic component

Wiktionary explains the two glyph origins of 「兹」 as the following: Unorthodox variant simplified from 茲 with 䒑 as the top component instead of 艹 found in the Ming dynasty orthographic dictionary ...
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Pronunciation of 腺

Quoting Wiktionary, the glyph origin of the character 「腺」 is as follows: A 国字 (kokuji, “Japanese-coined character”) coined in the late 1700s–early 1800s by rangaku scholar Udagawa Genshin as a ...
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365 views

Glyph origins of '進'

Motivation While writing my recent meta question, I've cited Dr. Gavin Chiu (趙善軒)'s article to explain the character '進' and its simplified character '井'. However, a user points out that the linked ...
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Etymology of foreign names translated to Chinese

I am looking for a resource that explains the translation of English names to Chinese. In this case i am trying to understand why Broadway is translated to 百老汇。 Anyone knows? Thanks in advance.
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Etymologies and relationship between the characters 錘, 槌, 鎚, and 椎

Wiktionary lists 錘, 槌, 鎚, and 椎 to all have the meaning of "hammer", but I'm not sure if that was the original meaning for any of those characters, and they all (or at least some) appear to ...
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Logic of the word 上午 (shànɡwǔ, morning)

上午 apparently means "morning". But I don't understand the logic of this word for two reasons: 1) Isn't the meaning of 午 "noon"? 2) With the words 早上 (early morning) and 晚上 (evening) then 上 is the ...
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What is the 統 in 傳統?

The 傳 in 傳統 is easy to understand. Tradition is transmitted. As the dictionary(MOE) says: 世代相傳. But what about the 統?It has many meanings, including verbal ones. One (絲的頭緒) refers to the main ...
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How did 零 come to mean zero?

I understand that 零 originally meant rain, however for some reason it eventually became fragments and then also zero. How did the meaning of this character shift to become fragments (rain drops, maybe?...
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How did 鳥 end up a Kangxi radical but not 烏?

烏, wū, crow, 10 strokes, 灬 radical 鳥, niǎo, bird, 11 strokes, 鳥 radical All the way since at least seal script, 鳥 seems like just 烏 with an additional stroke. They both describe birds in one way or ...
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Why is proton called 质子 and charge called 电荷?

For instance, in medical terminology, we can tease out the meaning from the words. But I cannot tell why we use 质 for proton and 荷 for charge.
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When did the meaning of shi 是 shift from »this« (此) to being a copula (»be«)?

I know this question is somewhat unclear since the word shi 是 never only meant this, but carries (and has done so for a long time) several meanings. The Gu Hanyu da cidian (via Pleco) lists some of ...
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Why is “weight” = 体重 and why is “height” = 身高?

Recently, I registered to a running tracker app. The app required me to fill some personal information and two of them were my 体重 (weight) and 身高 (height). I wonder why one uses 体 while the other one ...
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How old is the usage of the word 上帝?

The word 上帝 is associated by many with western religions. My question is, is there any occurrence of this word in ancient chinese writings or inscriptions?
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Pronunciation and etymology of 啱

I was reading the Wikipedia page on hypercorrection, and I noticed this particle section on Cantonese: In Cantonese, some speakers omit the initial [ŋ]. For instance, the character 牙 (Jyutping: ...
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Why is a “thing” called “东西” and not “南北”?

Why is a "thing" called "东西" and not "南北"?
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为什么 “也” 发音为 “ye” 但是 “他”发音为“ta”???

Oh great. I have to ask in English to get it past StackExchange filters. Characters with radicals typically have pronunciations close to the bare character. For example: "韦“ (wei) versus "伟“ (wei) or "...
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Why does 葛藤(갈등) mean 'conflict' or 'troubles'?

I am learning Korean, and my dictionary gives an English meaning for 葛藤(갈등) as 'conflict' or 'troubles'. Why do these characters combine do give this meaning? Both characters seem to mean some kind of ...
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What are the original Chinese characters for the Chinese family name Suening in the Philippines?

My late grandfather left Macau, China to the Philippine to find work around the year 1918-1920. In my dad's baptismal certificate, my grandfather carries the name Leo Suening. It's also common in the ...
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How did 子, meaning “child”, become a noun suffix?

It's really impressive how 子 [zi] is super productive as a noun suffix. But I can't see any relation of how the idea of "child" could turn into a suffix. Thanks!
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Is the Filipino word “buwisit” really from Hokkien?

I've read a couple of times the word being attributed to Hokkien. This wiktionary entry claims the same. I'm not convinced though.
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162 views

How did 孬 become pronounced “nāo”?

孬 is an interesting character. MDBG mentions that 孬 is a: (contraction of 不 and 好) From it's structure it is also quite clear that 孬 is a combination of 不 and 好. From an phonetic angle though nāo,...
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594 views

乘 vs 承 - are they related?

Just learnt a few verbs which use 乘 and 承 and was thinking that, not only do they look and sound mighty similar, but their ultimate meanings are both related to 'transfering' something. 乘 with ...
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Etymology/meaning of character 绍 and its relation to 介绍 [duplicate]

According to the dictionaries, the character 绍 means "to carry on, to continue". Looking at its etymology, I found nowhere saying nothing else from it being composed of silk (纟) and the sound 召 [zhao]....
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What is the meaning of the character 打 in 打坐?

How did the two-part compound 打坐 come to mean "seated meditation"? What is the function of the character 打 in that compound?

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