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etymological dictionary and etymology of 行李箱

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Hello Experts,
is there a web source or a book that explains in English (!) the etymology of Chinese words (not characters)?
The reason for asking: I stumbled over the word 行李箱.
How did the plum tree get into the suitcase? Does somebody know?

Thank You


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Hey there, there is the 'ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese' just in case anyone interested stumbles into this topic. It's available for Wenlin and I believe Pleco. However it's of Old Chinese, so will not answer OP's question.

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According to Wiktionary it's simply a phonetic borrowing of the character that's existed since Old Chinese. Old source cited though.


Duffus, William (1883) , “baggage”, in English-Chinese Vocabulary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Swatow, Swatow: English Presbyterian Mission Press, page 16

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EDOC is licensed but not released, due to a combination of data processing issues + the fact that we still don't have a great system for appending notes / references / etc to dictionaries (and those are super important for that particular title).


We might take another stab at it after 4.0 is out but of course by that point modern Chinese will probably be considered Old Chinese 🙂

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@calculatrix -- "is there a web source or a book that explains in English (!) the etymology of Chinese words (not characters)?"


Would Outlier Linguistics be of help for your purpose? They got a lot of coverage here for a while, but seem to have somewhat dropped out of view. 


Here's an old link. At the bottom of it is a link to their website. 





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Would definitely pay again to have EDOC in Pleco. I can understand why you might be struggling with it, even the guys at Wenlin had to throw up their hands on certain things and only half integrated it into their Zidian in the end.

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Thank you, everybody!
That is cool.
So, 通假字 means, that in ancient times there was a word 行理箱?
And in later but still ancient times by misspelling (or was it intentionally?) 理 was replaced by the phonetically but not semantically equivalent 李 which became standard.
Are there more 通假字s?
Did this occur often?

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I'm unsure whether 行李 was ever rendered as 行理, only info I found is that the two are etymologically related. Sorry if this is a confusing distinction. To say whether the word 行李 was ever written 行理, you would need to find an instance of the written form 行理 where the contemporary meaning of the word which 行李 represents had developed, but it wasn't rendered with the two characters 行李.


It may be the case that the word 行李 has never been written with the characters 行理, but only the original word 行理, which holds an etymologically related meaning.


Does that make any sense? It's quite hard to make clear what I'm trying to say, but it gets into issues of "what is a word" and "what is its relationship to written language", etc. You might also need to look at reconstructions of Older Chinese and regional varieties.


Basically no way I can say with any certainty unless someone finds a source by an expert who's done the work that very clearly lays out the etymologically development of the word.

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