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Why is an originator called ‘bi zu’ in Chinese?

Chinese words, learning Chinese

Before explaining the origin of Chinese word "鼻祖 (bí zǔ)", we have to take a look at the character "鼻 (bí)".



The original form of Chinese character "鼻 (bí)" is "自 (zì)". In ancient times, "自 (zì)" meant "nose (鼻子, bí zi)" in Chinese. In the oracle bone script and the bronze script, "自 (zì)" looked like the shape of human's nose. At that time, "自" and "鼻" shared the same pronunciation and Xu Shen, a famous linguist in the Eastern Han Dynasty, said in his work Shuo Wen Jie Zi that "自pronounced the same as 鼻".



People often point to their noses when they speak of themselves, and that's why "自 (zì)" has another meaning of "self" and becomes the first-person pronoun. As this use of "自 (zì)" is widely accepted, its original meaning "nose" is less used. Therefore, another Chinese phonogram was created as people added "畀 (bì)" under "自 (zì)" to form a new character "鼻 (bí)". From then on, "自 (zì)" and "鼻 (bí)" are used separately with different meanings.



As "自 (zì)" has its extended meaning "从 (cóng)" which also refers to the "beginning", "鼻 (bí)" inherits the meaning of "origination" or "beginning" as well, the first ancestor or originator is called "鼻祖 (bí zǔ)".


The article is translated and editted by Chinlingo. Please indicate the source (info.chinlingo.com) for any use, reproduction or transfer. 



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