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I've noticed a bunch of questions coming up asking the etymology of certain words - is this adding value to the site or something we should discourage? Does anyone have thoughts on this?

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It seems like from the definition of the purpose of the site, these questions are not off-topic. Etymology is interesting, not related to the usage of the language, but related to the language itself and in particular the "finer points" of it. As we see on the English Language Meta, etymology was considered on-topic for their site. I'd say following in these footsteps is a wise track.

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    I agree. It's directly related to the Chinese language, and is going to be of interest to a lot of users – Cocowalla Dec 15 '11 at 9:33
  • I vote for on topic too. – Alenanno Dec 15 '11 at 15:21
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I think these questions are on topic, but they tend to attract low quality answers. Many people -- especially learners of Chinese -- think they know a character's etymology when in fact they've either just made a guess from the form of the character (using radicals and the like) or parroted something a teacher, friend, or popular Chinese book told them about how to memorize a character. These mnemonic tricks occasionally seem plausible, but usually they're in no way related to where the characters actually come from.

See this blog post by Victor Mair for a particularly laughable example of this faux-etymology-as-memory-aid phenomenon.

  • I think deriving possible meaning from a character's radical or other parts is of some value, as long as one cites explicitly that it's not an etymology but rather a supposition. – Petruza Mar 28 '12 at 14:19

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