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27 votes

Historical: How was Chinese written in telegrams and early computers?

For telegrams, the Chinese Commercial Code (中文電碼) was used. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_telegraph_code Roughly, to send a telegram, someone needed to go to the post office, write down the ...
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15 votes
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勇 character on soldiers' uniforms in movies

This is more of a history question. 勇 is short for 乡勇, which roughly means "militia". They are temporary soldiers recruited from the local population in times of need, and are usually disbanded soon ...
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11 votes
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哪儿 vs. 哪里, Difference in Meaning?

There's no difference in meaning. They are not actually all that distinct: both words came from 哪, a generic interrogative character used for indicating a question. Given an appropriate context (e.g. ...
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11 votes

How did three characters for _de_ emerge?

The premise of the question is a bit backwards. It's not that de evolved into three different characters, it's that three different words evolved to have the same pronunciation in modern Mandarin ...
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10 votes
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Is it fair to assume that 站 and 占 are the same word?

They're not the same word. Upon creation, they were pronounced differently. But 占 is the phonetic component of 站; their pronunciations were close. This is certain. What is less certain, though still ...
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9 votes
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How was 辣 used before the Columbian Exchange?

in ancient time, "辛" was used, in lieu of 辣. e.g. in 洪範: 潤下作鹹﹒炎上作苦﹒曲直作酸﹒從革作辛﹒稼穡作甘 http://ctext.org/shang-shu/great-plan/zh?searchu=潤下作鹹,炎上作苦,曲直作酸,從革作辛,稼穡作甘%E3%80%82&searchmode=showall#result ...
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9 votes
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Meaning of early written versions of 地 and etymology?

「地」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[l]ˤej-s/, ground) is comprised of semantic 「土」 (picture of a lump of dirt) and phonetic 「也」 (/*lAjʔ/). This structure is found relatively late, derived from a graphical ...
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8 votes
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Character 瞓: where did the pronunciations come from?

How was it pronounced in older times (i.e. Middle Chinese)? I haven't found a record of 瞓 in classical Chinese, but since 瞓 and 训 are both read as fan in Cantonese, I'll take 训 instead. It is read ...
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8 votes

A unified theory of 就 meaning

reference: 现代汉语词典,第6版 (Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition). This dictionary gives 8 basic meaning items for 就. approach, get close to get to, begin to do passive, -ed by finish, become ...
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7 votes
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乐 Le and Yue: When did they diverge?

I did some research. Here is what I found: 1) 樂 first meant music instruments, pronounced 'ngok'(逆角切). In Japanese, it is がく[楽](gaku). 2) The meaning happy '悦/樂' first had the same pronunciation 樂 ...
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7 votes

Character 瞓: where did the pronunciations come from?

As Wang Dingwei notes in his answer, 瞓 is a phono-semantic character that uses 訓 (also pronounced fan3 in Cantonese) as the phonetic component to represent the word fan3 in its meaning of "sleep". ...
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7 votes
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Why did people sometimes call Liu Bei "明将军"?

It's an honorific, meaning "illustrious" or "enlightened general", and as such is not specific to Liu Bei. For example, in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, Pei Song's annotations ...
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7 votes

How old is the expression “老百姓”?

百姓: 释义:战国之前是对贵族的统称,战国之后,楚对平民的通称。《诗经·雅·天保》“群黎百姓”郑玄笺:“百姓,官族姓也。” 现今指平民,普通人。也称“老百姓”。 Before the Warring States period, it was a general term for nobles. After the Warring States period, Chu's ...
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7 votes
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Why does Mandarin Chinese have a smaller inventory of unique syllables?

From San Duanmu, The Phonology of Standard Chinese: While Middle Chinese (about AD 600) had over 3,000 syllables (including tonal distinctions), modern Standard Chinese (SC) has just over 1,300. Thus,...
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7 votes
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How did 漢 come to represent the Han people and civilization?

A few points to start off: Characters are not made up of radicals (which are strictly dictionary section headers); elements of characters which give meaning are called semantic components. The ...
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7 votes

Is the number 4 really considered unlucky because it sounds similar to the word for "death"?

"...if 四 is "unlucky" merely because it sounds "similar" to 死, what makes it especially different from those 53 characters?" My speculation, and too long for the Comment ...
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6 votes

Are the Cantonese word 係 and the Japanese word はい related?

The Japanese wiki page mentions that the claim is a "folk theory" that is "denied by academics". An alternative etymology for Cantonese hai6 comes from 系/繫. I don't have this book, but apparently ...
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  • 1,020
6 votes

Are radicals a relatively new invention for looking up dictionaries?

I think your phrasing may be ambiguous, so I'll answer in two ways. If you're asking if characters didn't have a radical and then one was added - thereby changing the character - for classification ...
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6 votes
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Are radicals a relatively new invention for looking up dictionaries?

I believe that Chinese characters are born with radicals, but they were not classified by radicals until Shuowen Jiezi. To understand why radicals appeared at that time, we need to know that in the ...
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6 votes

Which proverb / expression is original? -- 爱及屋乌, 爱乌及屋, 爱屋及乌

http://www.zdic.net/c/1/3/5022.htm 愛屋及烏 因愛一個人連帶的也愛護停留在他屋上的烏鴉。語本尚書大傳.卷三.牧誓.大戰篇:「愛人者,兼其屋上之烏。」後比喻愛一個人也連帶的關愛與他有關的人或物。明.許自昌.水滸記.第八齣:「他們都是你舅舅的相識,你何無愛屋及烏情?」隋唐演義.第八十七回:「楊妃平日愛這雪衣女,雖是那鸚鵡可愛可喜,然亦因是安祿山所獻,...
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6 votes

How was 辣 used before the Columbian Exchange?

'辣' is not a accurate word for the taste that we mean. For example, as the answers above, garlic (大蒜) tastes '辣', ginger (生姜) tastes '辣', and mustard (芥末‌) also tastes '辣'. These three ones are the ...
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  • 272
6 votes
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Was the word 男朋友 borrowed from English (or maybe the opposite)?

Yes. The English words boyfriend/girlfriend are modern; their usage to refer to romantic, unmarried relations dates to around 1922. This is also where other terms like "dating" arose. Similarly, in ...
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  • 8,477
6 votes
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What musical instrument does "敫" refer to?

「敫」 does not have a solid basis for the meaning ancient musical instrument, but it looks like that meaning was derived from a transcription or translation error for a word which really did represent ...
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6 votes

What title did Qing China use for US presidents?

Formally, the Chinese title was President - that is, the English word President was transliterated into Chinese as 伯理璽天德. From the Treaty of Wanghia (望廈條約): 以上關涉太平、和好、貿易、海面各款條約,應候各大臣奏明大清大皇帝批准,...
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6 votes

Meaning of early written versions of 地 and etymology?

The first two (and the "Shizhoupian script" one) are 墬 in the 隶定 (transcription in modern type of characters component by component) , and this character (墬) was now considered as ancient ...
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5 votes
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What are these "riddle jokes"?

歇后语 KEY ≪xiehouyu≫, witty folk simile (popular witty or humorous simile consisting of two parts, of which the second is the "punch line" and is often left unsaid because the listener is ...
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5 votes

What is a good English translation of 土豪?

nouveau riche The Free Dictionary: One who has recently become rich, especially one who flaunts newly acquired wealth. (often plural) a person who has acquired wealth recently and is regarded as ...
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5 votes
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Were 蒸 and 祯 homonyms?

An excellent resource for answering questions like this is 漢字古今音資料庫 at http://xiaoxue.iis.sinica.edu.tw/ccr/. Unfortunately it doesn't have Song or Yuan reconstructions, but it does list the 攝, which ...
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