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5 honorific titles in Chinese history

Chinese honorific, Chinese words, learning Chinese

In ancient China, there were 5 common words to address others respectfully, namely "陛下 (bì xià)", "殿下 (diàn xià)", "阁下 (gé xià)", "麾下 (huī xià)" and "足下 (zú xià)".  

在古代,有以下5个常见的用于尊敬称呼他人的词语:陛下、殿下、阁下、麾下和足下。

 

Whether you watch a TV play or a movie, as long as an emperor shows up, you will hear the courtiers addressing him "陛下 (bì xià)". Why do they address the emperor "陛下 (bì xià)"? In fact, the character "陛 (bì)" originally referred to the stairs in a royal palace. If a courtier wanted to advise the emperor, he could not call the emperor' name directly. Instead, he should call the attendant at the foot of the stairs, who would inform the emperor. Over time, "陛下 (bì xià)" has become an honorific for an emperor.

无论你看电视剧或电影,只要剧中有皇帝出现,就会听到群臣们以"陛下"称呼皇帝。为什么称皇帝为"陛下"呢?实际上,"陛下"的"陛",本义是指帝王宫殿的台阶。臣子向天子进言时,不能直呼天子,必须先呼台阶下的侍者而告之。后来"陛下"就成为对帝王的敬辞。

 

"殿下 (diàn xià)" , the same as "陛下 (bì xià)", was originally used to address the emperor respectfully. However, its addressed object varied in different dynasties. Since the Han Dynasty, it had been used to address the crown prince or other princes. Since the Tang Dynasty, only the crown prince, the queen and the empress dowager could be addressed "殿下 (diàn xià)".

"殿下"和"陛下"是一个意思,原来也是对天子的敬称。不过,称谓对象随着来朝代的发展而有所变化。汉代以后演变为对太子、亲王的敬称。唐代以后只有皇子、皇后、皇太后可以称为"殿下"。

 

"阁下 (gé xià)" is used to address ordinary people politely, often seen in letters. It was originally the title of attendants. When friends or fellows felt embarrassed to call each other's name directly, they would call each other's attendants first. Later, "阁下 (gé xià)" has evolved into an honorific term to address the closest friends or relatives, and it is mostly used on social occasions.

"阁下"是对一般人的尊称,常用于书信中。它的原意是由于亲朋同辈间相互不便直呼其名,常常先呼其侍从"阁下"以转达的。后来逐渐演变为对至友亲朋间尊称的敬辞,今多用于社交场合。

 

In Chinese, "麾 (huī)" refers to the flag used for commanding an army in ancient China, while "麾下 (huī xià)" is an honorific title for the generals.

"麾",本是指古代指挥军队的旗帜,而"麾下"是对将帅的尊称。

 

In ancient times, "足下 (zú xià)" was commonly used by the inferiors to address the superiors or used between peers. As an honorific title to address others modestly, "足下 (zú xià)" is seldom used nowadays.

在古代,下称谓上,或同辈相称,都用"足下"。足下,属谦虚地尊称对方的称呼。不过该词如今很少使用。


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2016-06-22

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