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Character etymology for 买 (mǎi, to buy) and 卖 (mài, to sell)

Posted by mandarinboy September 23, 2008 in the Group General Discussion .

Tags: , , sell, buy, etymology

Today we will look at two characters as a change. (mǎi, to buy)  and (mài, to sell)


Traditional form: 
Pinyin: mǎi

Meaning: to buy, purchase; bribe, persuade

Frequency: 840

Strokes: 6


Decomposition: 乛 wān (yǐ second) + 头 tóu head

Radical part: wān

Alternative forms of radical: (yǐ ), (yǐ ),

Radical meaning: second 

Stroke animation: (the strokes are drawn the direction the picture is tipping)






Etymology:  To understand this character we first need to look at the traditional form of the character:

By looking at early bronze version of the character we can see that it have changed very little before the latest simplification. The picture is a net over a cowry shell. In early days cowry shells where used as a sort of money.



Picture of a cowry shell




A net with goods e.g. fish is bought by giving your cowry shells as payment. There are many other suggested meanings to this. E.g with a net you can catch the cowry shells that can be used to buy things with.  To get the antonym to sell 卖, mài, we just add ,shí ,ten to the top.

One easy way to remember them my teacher at the university in Beijing learned me. The character who wants to buy is having an empty roof = need to buy goods. The one who is selling is having ten items on the roof that he likes to sell.

The character have been simplified and today we are using tóu meaning body and yǐ meaning second. I remember this by thinking like this: You need a second person, the seller, to be able to buy.

Link to nciku usage of the character  (examples, sound etc)


Link to nciku usage of the character  (examples, sound etc)



Example words: 

购买 gòu mǎi purchase 

买卖 mǎi mài buying and selling / business dealings 

买单 mǎi dān pay the restaurant bill 

购买者 gòu mǎi zhě purchaser 

买主 mǎi zhǔ customer 

买到 mǎi dào bought 

买通 mǎi tōng

买方市场 mǎi fāng shì chǎng buyer's market 

拍卖 pāi mài auction 

专卖 zhuān mài monopoly / exclusive right to trade 

卖方 mài fāng seller 

卖完 mài wán to be sold out 

卖国贼 mài guó zéi traitor 

义卖会 yì mài huì bazaar

卖肉者 mài ròu zhě butcher   

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