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mungouk

Etymology of 魘

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mungouk
On 12/20/2019 at 11:41 PM, Tomsima said:

pressure + ghost

 

Is the character not hate + ghost, 鬼 /  厭 + 鬼 ...?

 

Although MDBG does have 鬼压床 as a colloquial word for "sleep paralysis" which does have in it.

 

Interesting.

 

On 12/20/2019 at 11:41 PM, Tomsima said:

sleep paralysis, which is apparently like having some sort of monster sitting on top of you.

 

I get it from time to time, usually just as I'm waking up.  Feels like being awake (and aware of the bedroom) but you are completely paralysed and still partly dreaming. Usually there is some sinister thing happening to me, or even some kind of hallucination.  Lasts for a few seconds then I somehow manage to drag myself to the surface of consciousness. Not pleasant!

 

Moderator note: Thread split from here by Lu.

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Tomsima

Sorry, I should have said why I wrote pressure. I first checked the entry in ABC: "From 厌(厭) yàn phonetic and 鬼 (guǐ) ‘devil’". I already knew that 厭 and 壓 were originally written the same way,; I just double-checked an entry for 厭 in 字源 to confirm this:

 

Capture.thumb.PNG.0715ba87d151164924e17c8e7bf13c4b.PNG

 

I then checked a few dictionary entries for 魘, which as you noted used the term 鬼压床. I think I must have then got a bit carried away seeing the 鬼壓 and convincing myself that 魘 was indeed 厭(=壓)+鬼 where the phonetic 厭 was doubling as a semantic reinforcement. Coming back, this seems like a pretty big inference! Almost certainly a mistake - it is probably simply just "From 厌(厭) yàn phonetic and 鬼 (guǐ) ‘devil’" as stated by abc. Occams razor and all that...

 

Nonetheless, would be interesting to hear an Outlier take on this (paging @OneEye for a request) (...or indeed @LawrenceHowell if still here...)

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OneEye

Yeah, I'd say 魘 is just a simple 形聲字. I'd have to look into it a bit more to be sure, but it seems like by the time 魘 appears, 厭 and 壓 are already quite separate, so it would be unlikely for the creator of 魘 to have in mind a by-then-obsolete meaning of 厭. The Shuowen analyzes it as 从鬼厭聲, and I don't see any scholars disagreeing with that in the works I've checked.

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LawrenceHowell

Thanks for the ping, Tomsima. Tied up at the moment, but I should have time in the next week or so to look this over and offer a proper response.

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LawrenceHowell

Like you, Tomsima, I am fond of the principle behind Occam's Razor, and make it a habit not to multiply entities without necessity.

 

As presented in my etymological data, 猒 indicates the disagreeable sensation of rich/fatty meat pressing upon the intestines, with the specific meaning “be satiated.” 厭 adds  厂 for reasons uncertain.

 

As the phonosemantic element in compound characters, 厭 conveys either the concept “press upon” (examples: 壓 黶 厴 靨 and indeed 魘) or the specific application “be satiated” (see 懕 and 饜).

 

With 厭 functioning so admirably in 魘 and the other half-dozen characters noted, bringing 厌 into the discussion (as ABC does) strikes me as superfluous and possibly a red herring.

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Tomsima

To clarify, Outlier argues that the 厭 in 魘 is purely phonetic (indicating the sound now pronounced in modern Mandarin as yǎn), whereas Howell argues that the 厭 in 魘 is phonosemantic, indicating both the sound  (now pronounced in modern Mandarin as yǎn) and a meaning connected to the concept of "press upon".

 

I do think it is interesting that Lawrence sees 厭 as an element of a compound character, distinct from the full character 厭(S:厌), and takes 厭 as a phonosemantic as the most simple explanation. It may well be the case that the outlier position is counter to this, but as my first reaction to the character was to read the 厭 in the same way I would 壓, and indeed 靨 which has already appeared on this thread previously, I am actually inclined to agree with this theory.

 

I have no experience in old/middle Chinese phonetics, but it would be interesting to try and find out when, where and why 厭 began to be used to indicate the sound of the concept that 魘 represents. Was it the case that 厭 was chosen to represent the sound of the word that represented the concept of 魘 instead of other available phonetic elements with the same pronounciation because it also helped to further clarify in what way the word was different from a simple 鬼 or other characters that used 鬼? Or was it simply a matter of chance? During earlier periods what other common phonetic elements were available to choose from that would indicate the same or similar sound that 厭 was able to?

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LawrenceHowell

Thanks for the summary of the discussion of 魘, Tomsima. I don't have anything to add regarding that character, but decided a summary of the approaches taken by the players here might be of interest or use to some forum readers. Let's go in chronological order.

 

First we have Shuowen Jiezi, compiled by Xu Shen nearly two millennia back. This work is of incomparable value in the History of Ideas, given the influence it has exerted on Chinese understandings of the characters and the Chinese writing system. In contrast, its value as an interpretive tool is paltry. Why? Because Xu Shen had only fragmentary knowledge about the earliest forms of the characters, no way to probe how their ancient pronunciations may have differed from those of his time, and would have been knocked out of his chair at the notion of phonesthemic tendencies in the early language.

 

An invisible player in this discussion is Gilbert Roy, who published papers on certain aspects of phonosemantic phenomena in Old Chinese back in the 1970s.

 

My comprehensive treatment of the Chinese writing system has been online in one form or another since 2004.

 

The ABC Dictionary of Old Chinese (which might as well be equated with Axel Schuessler) dates to 2007.

 

Outlier is the most recent player.

 

While we're at it, Wiktionary's treatment of the characters also deserves mention.

 

So, what do we find?

 

Schuessler is curious in that he acknowledges phonesthemic tendencies in Old Chinese, but you'd never know that from reading the entries. It seems he believed he was on safe scholarly grounds in making broad statements, but when it came to bringing his findings to bear on his treatments of individual terms, he lacked the courage of his convictions. More's the pity for students of Chinese.

 

Why? Because Schuessler is considered a reliable source for Chinese studies, meaning that his interpretations of individual terms (and by extension the characters conveying those terms in writing) are eligible to grace the virtual pages of that valuable free resource, Wiktionary. Meanwhile, no other source deemed reliable has stepped to the plate, and so Wiktionary's editors continue to find themselves unable to provide us with anything beyond (quote)

 

Phono-semantic compound (形聲, OC *qemʔ, *qeb): phonetic 厭 (OC *qemʔ, *qems, *qeb) + semantic 鬼 (“devil”).

 

(end quote) which doesn't provide any insight as to why 魘 conveys the meaning “nightmare.”

 

Then what of Outlier?

 

Having never seen any Outlier data other than some of the material the fellows have posted on third-party sites, I'll limit my observations to general remarks.

 

First, as at least one forum member has observed, the guys have always gone out of their way to avoid discussing my material. What's up with that? Beats me.

 

Next, when the single-oculared gentleman decided to label my “stuff” (as he called it) “controversial” in a thread in this forum, it eventually led to his double-oculared partner putting in a rare appearance to offer a point-by-point breakdown of what aspects of my work are considered controversial in the scholarly community.

 

That was well-stated and overall perfectly dandy. I replied, he disappeared, and the world has kept turning.

 

But readers who did not allow the fireworks to distract them may have noted something peculiar about his presentation. His intent was to position me in the controversial camp, yet in doing so he acknowledged assenting to certain of my "controversial" positions.

 

In other words, he holds to positions that are heterodox in academe, but takes care not to allow them to appear in his work. Where have we seen that before?

 

That leaves present company. By now everyone knows how I approach etymological studies of Old Chinese, so no additional beating of that dead horse. Instead, let me tell a story.

 

It's the Age of Exploration, and world maps are getting better. Assuredly he wasn't the first, but a certain Abraham Ortelius notes that the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa seem like matching pieces. The same for other apparently separate(d) land masses. Ortelius explains the phenomenon by conjecturing that the continents drifted apart.

 

Several hundred years pass, others contribute ideas to this continental drift theory, then Alfred Wegener comes along and places it on a mostly solid scientific footing. His thesis meets with the usual reactions: Tentative acceptance by a few brave souls able to think for themselves and unfettered by concern for academic reputation, widespread dismissal, and open hostility from professionals and organizations with vested interests to protect at all cost.

 

Those pros are long in their graves. They are survived, though, by the industry group that at the time felt sufficiently concerned by Wegener's findings to organize a seminar to castigate them (here's looking at you, AAPG). Be that as it may, now, with another century of research behind us, we've corrected the shortcomings of Wegener's theory, brought in additional salient facts, coined a more fitting name et voila, we have the robust theory of plate tectonics.

 

Swap out “continental drift,” swap in “phonosemantic nature of Old Chinese” and you'll be sure to get my, ah, drift. Suggestions for a sexier name now being accepted.

 

 

 

 

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