Friday, 9 March 2018

西 | xī

In Mandarin Chinese, 西 (Pinyin: 🔊) means “west” or “western”. Attention Russian speakers: sounds very much like щи (Russian-style cabbage soup).

Now that we know the words for all cardinal directions, it’s not difficult to guess the meaning of 东西南北 (dōngxīnánběi): east, west, south and north — in other words, everywhere. The shorter compound 东西 is a trickier one. One set of meanings (when pronounced dōngxī) is “east and west”, “nearby” or “everywhere”. When pronounced slightly differently (dōngxi 🔊), it means “thing”, “something”, “stuff”. Applied to a human, dōngxi becomes an insult: it is implied that the object of one’s rage is less than human, as in 不是东西 (bùshì dōngxi), “a contemptible person” or “good for nothing”.

The shape of 西 looks familiar, isn’t it? In my classification of Chinese characters, 西 (which looks like the Greek letter π poking out of the box) sits somewhere between (π hiding in the box) and (π poking out of the box while standing on a bench). From the etymological point of view, however, these characters have nothing in common. has evolved from repositioning of four strokes inside the square while originally was depicting a wine jug. According to Wiktionary, 西 is a pictogram of

a bag or basket, borrowed for phonetic value. Compare (“bundle > east”). Traditionally explained as a pictogram of a bird settling into its nest, which by analogy with the setting of the sun means “west”.
More photos related to west and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

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