Betelgeuse in Greek, Latin, Arabic, English, and Chinese

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AntC led me down a deep, dark rabbit hole by asking:  "Hi Professor Mair, is the Contributing Writer confused, or is it the interwebs?"

He was prompted to ask that question by having read the following statement in this article, "Orion’s love affair, Shen Xiu’s long-distance friendship on Taiwan’s winter sky", Taiwan News, by P.K. Chen, Contributing Writer (2/8/22):

The Greek constellation Orion is called “Shen Xiu” (參宿, “The Three Stars”) in China; “Shen” or “three” refers to the three stars on Orion’s belt, while “Xiu” or “place for rest” refers to where the moon remains fixed and “rests.”

Trying to figure out the relationships among the names of the constellation and its constituent stars in Greco-Latin and Sinitic nomenclature ate up an entire evening.  To start with, there are many possibilities for how to pronounce 參宿, the Chinese equivalent to Orion (constellation name): sānsù (Google Traslate), cānsù (zdic), shēnxiù (Wiktionary).  So we've got a lot of variation involving both characters of the term.  But that's just the beginning of our attempts to grapple with the language and lore concerning Sinoxenic words for Orion. 

Here's the context for the passage that drew AntC's attention:

The most obvious and easily recognizable constellation in winter’s night sky is Orion. As long as one can find a location away from air pollution or street lamps after dark, one can find the hunter-shaped bright stars in the southern sky.

In Greek mythology, the personified hunter falls in love with the moon goddess Artemis, but offends the queen of the gods, Hera, for boasting of invincibility. Hera thus sends Scorpius to assassinate him.

Imagine lying on the beach of Kenting on a winter night, watching the moon inch more and more towards Orion, as though making love to him. Every night, the two get closer to each other due to the moon’s orbital path around Earth before gradually separating.

Yet just before dawn, when Scorpius pokes its head out from the eastern horizon, Orion rushes to clean up and leave, hiding behind the western horizon.

Interestingly, a similar story was told in ancient China. The Greek constellation Orion is called “Shen Xiu” (參宿, “The Three Stars”) in China; “Shen” or “three” refers to the three stars on Orion’s belt, while “Xiu” or “place for rest” refers to where the moon remains fixed and “rests.”

Du Fu (杜甫), a renowned Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty once lamented not seeing a friend for several years by writing, “We are separated in life, like the constellations Shen and Shang (商) rising and falling against each other.” The constellation “Shen” refers to Orion, while the constellation “Shang” is the equivalent of Scorpius.

The fact that ancient people from both the East and the West personified and told stories about the two constellations makes such an intriguing coincidence.

(Translation by Stephanie Chiang)

It's a touching story, and the similarity of its telling, east and west, made me wonder whether it was simply a matter of sheer coincidence.

First things first — I had to educate myself about Orion:

Orion is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky. It is named after Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are blue-white Rigel (Beta Orionis) and red Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis).


Unfortunately, the more I studied the names of the relevant constellations and stars, the more confused I became.  This was especially so when I investigated the pronunciation and meaning of the supposed Chinese equivalent of Orion, namely 參宿, or as the Taiwan News article says, "Shen Xiu" ("The Three Stars").  Ever vigilant, AntC continued his pursuit

Google translates 參宿 as 'Betelgeuse' — which is a star in Orion, but not the belt/not any of the three in the belt. Neither do I see the character for three (三 Sān) — which is what pricked my interest. Orion's belt is 獵戶座腰帶 Lièhùzuò yāodài [VHM:  "belt of the hunter constellation"].
Google translates 參 cān [VHM:  That should be pronounced shēn; see below for a fuller explanation] on its own as ginseng, but offers many possibilities in combination with other characters. Is it an alternative character for 'three'? Or is it merely a close homophone for Sān ? Or is it one of those dratted protean particles?

Google Translate tells us that 參宿 is pronouced "sānsù" and, as AntC says, means 'Betelgeuse.

Betelgeuse is usually the tenth-brightest star in the night sky and, after Rigel, the second-brightest in the constellation of Orion.

α Orionis (Latinised to Alpha Orionis) is the star's designation given by Johann Bayer in 1603.

The traditional name Betelgeuse is derived from the Arabic يد الجوزاء Yad al-Jauzā’ "the hand of al-Jauzā’ [i.e. Orion]". An error reading the Arabic ya as ba in the 13th century led to the European name. In English, there are four common pronunciations of this name, depending on whether the first e is pronounced short or long and whether the s is pronounced "s" or "z":

The last pronunciation has been popularized for sounding like "beetle juice."

In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN, which included Betelgeuse for this star. It is now so entered in the IAU Catalog of Star Names.


But zdic, normally an authoritative online Chinese dictionary reads 參宿 as "cānsù".

On the other hand, Wiktionary, which is generally reliable, gives "shēnxiù" for 參宿 and tells us that it is a proper noun in astronomy that means "Three Stars" and designates a Chinese constellation.

The Three Stars mansion (simplified Chinese: 参宿; traditional Chinese: 參宿; pinyin: Shēn Xiù) is one of the twenty-eight mansions of the Chinese constellations. It is one of the western mansions of the White Tiger. This collection of seven bright stars is visible during winter in the Northern Hemisphere (summer in the Southern).


English name Chinese name European constellation Number of stars
Three Stars 參 Shen Orion 7
Punishment 伐 Fa Orion 3
Jade Well 玉井 Yu Jing Orion/Eridanus 4
Screen 屏 Ping Lepus 2
Military well 軍井 Jun Jing Lepus 4
Toilet 廁 Ce Lepus 4
Excrement 屎 Shi Columba 1

In ancient times, this asterism only contained three stars of Orion. But later, four more stars were added to it.


What I'm seeing from these correlations is that there is a partial overlap between the Western and Chinese terms for Orion and its constituent elements, so that confuses matters more than if they were completely separate or completely different.

In terms of phonology, the biggest problem is how to pronounce 參.

Following zdic, as a verb, it can be read as


[join; take part in]

[participate in]

[consider; discuss]

[examine; inspect]

[call to pay one's respect]

[refer to]



Only used in 參差参差 (cēncī) and 參錯参错 (cēncuò). {from Wiktionary]






[Shen star]


Wiktionary has eight different etymologies for 參, each with different pronunciations and meanings.



[stay overnight]

[keep watch at night]

[be in]


[be stationed]


[be content with]

[seek for]


[lodging station]



[lodging birds]

[famous person]



[old; long-standing]


[last year]







[in advance]


measure word





Wiktionary lists four different pronunciations for 宿, the first with twenty-seven definitions.

Returning briefly to 參, it is the personal name of one of Confucius' favorite disciples, Zēng Shēn (505-435 BC).

Still pronounced "shēn", 參 by itself can mean:

    1. ginseng or any other similar plant
    2. Short for 海參海参 (hǎishēn, “sea cucumber”).

Jacques (2016b) suggested that this word is related to Japhug zrɤm (root) and Yakkha साम (root).


Because of the nomenclatural ambiguity and uncertainty of 參宿 alone, I would not want to be a Sinoxenic astronomer.  However, based on the etymologies of 參 and 宿, I would vote for shēnxiù, which is where P.K. Chen and Stephanie Chen began.

In sum:

From (OC *suːm, *suːms, “three”) + other element (Schuessler, 2007).


“To stay overnight; lodge > night; mansion of the zodiac [i.e. the Sun's lodging stations]”
Probably related to Austroasiatic: cf. Old Khmer *ruk (to take cover or shelter) > Khmer ជ្រុក (cruk, shelter; refuge), Khmer ស្រុក (srok, settlement; village) (Schuessler, 2007). Benedict (1972) relates it to the Tibeto-Burman terms listed in the etymology of (OC *laːɡs, “night”), however the phonetics is difficult to reconcile in the current reconstructions.



Selected readings


  1. Scott P. said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:04 am

    Artemis as a moon goddess? That doesn't make any sense. Selene was the Greek goddess of the moon.

  2. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:24 am

    Artemis was apparently also associated with the moon.

    “Artemis Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity”

  3. Robbie said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 1:54 pm

    Selene is the goddess of the Moon in the heavens, but Artemis is the embodiment of the Moon on earth (and Hecate is the Moon in the underworld).

  4. jim mccormack said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 4:02 pm

    The three stars of the belt of Orion are Alnitak ('the girdle', zetaOri), Alnilam ('string of pearls', epsilonOri) and Mintaka ('belt', deltaOri).
    Like most individual star names, these derive from Arabic.

    Betelgeuse (alphaOri) is a corruption of an Arabic name meaning 'the hand of [Orion]'. However, Ptolemy's star catalogue describes this star as 'the star on the right shoulder' of Orion.

    Ptolemy's catalog, which dates to at least 250 BCE, is the core of the modern (western) accounting of the northern sky. The descriptors of the placement of stars within a constellation were not frivolous; they were an international astrololgical/astronomical standard for naming the fixed stars until the early 17th century, when the Bayer designations were introduced.

    The Chinese constellations, as far as I know, are a completely independent tradition. As the modern-day international stellar nomenclature derives from the tradition of Ptolemy/Bayer, I presume that modern-day Chinese astronomers have published tables of how the Chinese star figures map onto the Ptolemaic sky.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 4:58 pm

    Isn't Selene just the ordinary word for the Moon? How much existence does she have as a goddess as opposed to a vague personification? Are we also surprised when people call Apollo a god of the Sun instead of reserving that description for Helios?

    With the Chinese dictionaries defining both characters 參 and 宿 as "name of a constellation", and the fact that those senses seem to have special pronunciations not shared by other senses of the same characters, I feel a little queasy about assigning meaning to the constellation name. It feels like it might just be a name that goes way back – what are the characters of 嫦娥 supposed to "mean"?

  6. Terpomo said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 5:04 pm

    Incidentally, I have a friend named Artemis and sometimes I jokingly call her 嫦娥 when journaling/jotting down thoughts in Classical Chinese.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 5:56 pm

    I'm a bit confused by the references that suggest Orion is in the zodiac, since it isn't. Yes, at certain times the moon gets closer and closer to Orion, but the lovers are never united. The moon is headed directly toward and passes through Taurus instead.

    And why would Orion's name contain the word for "mansion" or "sign of the zodiac"? Was that generalized to mean any asterism or constellation?

  8. David C. said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 8:43 pm

    Fascinating stuff. I did a bit of googling and found this page that maps the Orion constellation to its Chinese star names, which stretches across two quadrants. α Ori (Betelgeuse) maps to 參宿四.

    Several web sites cite The Records of the Grand Historian (《史記 · 天宮書》):


    An artistic rendition of how the belt of Orion can be imagined as the body of a white tiger; the four other stars, the shoulders and hind legs of the tiger.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 8:56 pm

    OK, it's not a mansion of the sun but a mansion of the White Tiger?

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 9:24 pm

    But what does the original inquiry from AntC concern exactly? The author of this piece says 'shen1 xiu4' 參宿 because that's a thing (= "the (Lunar) Rest-Station Shen1") and that's what it's called, if that's the question… here the curious can e.g. listen to online videos about astronomy; Google Translate, etc., of course fail b/c Chinese writing.

    @Jerry Friedman
    But Shen1 參 is #21 of 28 in the "Lunar Mansions" er4shi2ba1 xiu4 二十八宿 zodiac-like system of the Chinese tradition. If what you mean is that the stars involved aren't literally on the ecliptic, the same is true of many of the Mansions (and most stars period come to think of it ;) — that's not necessary within such ecliptic longitude coordinate systems.

    @Michael Watts
    Yeah re: assigning meaning to shen1 參. The idea of an etymological connection to san1 三 is an old piece of dogma but likely false; shen1 as originally used seems to refer to an Orion-ish constellation as a whole, not just the three belt stars. Plus more stuff I long ago wrote in a never-finished essay :D…

    Re: 嫦娥 this involves a taboo avoidance; the old name is 恆娥. Maybe this just shifts the goal posts, but it seems both of these syllables have deep connections to the moon… see esp. early written forms of the former.

  11. Chris Button said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:09 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith

    A connection between 參 and 三 seems to be phonologically, semantically and graphically well supported though, doesn’t it?

  12. AntC said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:41 pm

    Thank you professor Mair for a comprehensive investigation; little did I suspect how many rabbit-holes.

    Regarding what pricked my initial interest, I see in the wiktionary three (hah!) 'historical forms' each has a tribar in the lower half of the character, at a jaunty angle. But these it suggests are "light rays" and/or a "phonetic component". In the upper half of the character are three blobs (stars?) but arranged in a triangle not a belt.

    Fun fact: what makes the three stars plausible as Orion's belt is a chain of fainter stars 'dangling' below it — as if a sword thrust into his belt. (In fact there are several nebulae, including the 'Orion Nebula'.)

    Now that I live in the Southern Hemisphere, Orion appears upside down. There's still four prominent 'corners' and the three-starred belt. But the sword is all wrong. (Proof, as if it was needed, that the earth is a sphere.)

  13. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 12:04 am

    @Chris Button short answer — many words are written "参" sothe question is not well formed as written for which see thread on "ideography"; shorter answer making a few assumptions about what the question might mean — no.
    Also just stepped outside and noticed moon quickly approaching shen1 参; enjoy all if local conditions permit…

  14. AntC said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 12:14 am

    From wikipedia on Orion (constellation), mythology: China.

    The Chinese character 參 (pinyin shēn) originally meant the constellation Orion (Chinese: 參宿; pinyin: shēnxiù); its Shang dynasty version, over three millennia old, contains at the top a representation of the three stars of Orion's belt atop a man's head (the bottom portion representing the sound of the word was added later).

    Hmm. This sounds like fantabulising. Who wears a belt atop their head? And what use is a triangular-shaped belt? I'm thinking it's headgear. And why add later a component three ( 三 ) when there's already three blobs? There's no reason the distinctive tristar should be taken as a piece with the more distant Betelgeuse/Rigel/etc. IOW no reason the Shang dynasty star-gazers should slice up the night sky the same way as the Greeks.

    As Prof Mair quotes, "In ancient times, this asterism only contained three stars of Orion.". So not a human form. Then why the man radical ( 人 )? Is that a re-interpretation of some historical form?

    Indeed wiki on 'Orion in Chinese Astronomy' says

    The modern constellation Orion lies across two of the quadrants, symbolized by the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎, Xī Fāng Bái Hǔ) and Vermilion Bird of the South (南方朱雀, Nán Fāng Zhū Què), that divide the sky in traditional Chinese uranography.

  15. Ben said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 12:59 am

    I don't think I have ever come across an etymology attributed to a mistaken transliteration before (misreading ب b for ي y). I was already chuckling, but I laughed out loud when I read this:
    "This was then misinterpreted during the Renaissance as deriving from a corruption of an original Arabic form إِبْط الجَوْزَاء (ʾibṭ al-jawzāʾ, “armpit of the central one”)." (
    Apparently it originally referred to Gemini. Not sure at what point someone goofed and switched it to Orion. What a fascinating comedy of errors in an etymology.

  16. John Swindle said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 1:10 am

    Chris Button, Jonathan Smith, I realize that the subject is historical and etymological, but today there's certainly a phonetic and semantic and graphic link between 三 sān 'three' and 參 when pronounced the same way. The latter and its variants have become 大寫 dàxiě (big writing) for "three," part of a special set of numbers used for pomp or to deter forgery.

    (Is there an English term for these? Spelled-out numbers? They're not spelled out. Uppercase numbers, like MMXXII/mmxxii?)

  17. Stephen Goranson said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 7:00 am

    If not already noted on LL:

    Robert Bickers (reviewer)
    How the Typewriter Changed Chinese
    Kingdom of Characters: A Tale of Language, Obsession, and Genius in Modern China
    By Jing Tsu
    Allen Lane 314pp

  18. Chris Button said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 7:31 am

    @ Jonathan Smith

    I get the whole “1, 2, many” concept. We have for example the multiple stars in 曐 reduced to three and the multiple slabs of meat in 彤 reduced to three. Or we have the three items at the top of 齊 that should not be taken literally as three.

    In the case of 参 we then could perhaps have a case of “many” rather than “three”. But even if you are correct about that, I wonder if there could still be an etymological link with 三?

  19. Chris Button said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 7:47 am

    Having said that, we know that -m sometimes palatalized to -ɲ. So perhaps 参 can be related to 曐 instead, which would support your argument. However, I don’t think the phonological conditions are the usual ones to permit such a palatalization. I will ponder some more …

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 9:49 am

    Jonathan Smith: Thanks, it's making more sense now.

    Ben: Another etymology based on a mistransliteration of Arabic is that of "sine". There are other examples of that kind of mumpsimus, but none are coming to mind.

    AntC (and others who understand Chinese writing): Could a belt atop a man's head indicate a belt way up high?

    John Swindle: "Big-writing numbers" seems like it could work. If not, how about a trendy phrase: "long-form numbers"?

  21. liuyao said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 10:13 am

    As I recall, Shēn Xiù is the official pronunciation according to modern dictionaries in PRC, though as always such things are not as easy to "verify". Xiu seems too vernacular to my ear (in third tone, that means "nighttime" probably in many topolects of the North), so I’d say sù sounds more correct.

    One could go down more rabbit holes, one for each of the 28 Xiu; almost all of them are quite cryptic (28 presumably for the 29.5 days of a lunar month). There is a 斗 Xiù, or the southern 斗, in case you wonder why the Big Digger is called the Northern 斗. I’d think someone has looked into these etymologies. For what it’s worth, the rest of the sky is not covered by Xiu, but other 星官.

  22. julie lee said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 12:56 pm


    @Mich'el Watts: " What are the characters of 嫦娥 supposed to 'mean'? "

    @ Jonathan Smith : " Re: 嫦娥 this involves a taboo avoidance; the old name is 恆娥."

    嫦娥 and 恆娥 (Chang'e) and 恆娥 (Heng'e) mean the same thing, "immortal beauty" . 嫦 (chang) and 恆 (heng) mean the same, "constant, enduring, eternal". Here it would mean "immortal". This immortality refers to the Chinese myth of Chang'e 嫦娥/Heng'e恆娥.
    According to the Huainanzi (composed somewhat before 139 BC):

    ”Yi [the husband of Heng'e ] asked Dowager Queen of the Western World for the medicine for immortality. Heng'e [Chang'e] stole it and fled to the moon." Whereupon she become the immortal goddess of the moon.
    [姮 stands for 恆.]

  23. ~flow said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 1:16 pm

    A rather famous example for a word having become what it is by way of spelling error is ginkgo for 銀杏 ginkyō, see and

  24. julie lee said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 1:41 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith:"Re: 嫦娥 this involves a taboo avoidance; the old name is 恆娥. Maybe this just shifts the goal posts, but it seems both of these syllables have deep connections to the moon… see esp. early written forms of the former."

    Yes, Wiktionary does say: "亙 (“partial moon”). In Small Seal Script, the 月 in 亙 became 舟."

  25. John Swindle said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 4:39 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: Sure, "big-writing numbers," I guess. "Long-form numbers" does sound better, but the Web already thinks that means ordinary numbers as opposed to scientific notation.

  26. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 6:13 pm

    @John Swindle @Chris Button
    I meant there are many words written "參". The word of interest here is the star name shen1 (Guangyun 參星亦姓 "the star(s) Shen; also a surname"). Other words also so written of course include (Mand.) can1 'join, etc', originally 'make three' I suppose (attested very early and in contexts clearly suggesting a relationship to 'three'), as well as san1 'three' itself — this is in the GY among other places so not a new phenomenon. The latter is not straightforwardly reconcilable with the star name phonologically, as all authors note I believe although they often then proceed to square peg > round hole anyway. Fortunately the star name is found written in other ways where the phonological match is right and which also point to the correct etymology :D

    @Julie Lee yes most famously 道可道非恆道, later 常 to 避漢文帝劉恆的諱

  27. julie lee said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 7:55 pm


    Thanks, I didn't know that the 道可道 line earlier had 恆道, not

  28. Chris Button said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 7:59 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith

    So, two questions:

    Why is it "not straightforwardly reconcilable"?

    And what is "the correct etymology" then?

  29. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 8:57 pm

    @Chris Button The phonological problems are surely pretty well-known? In Baxter & Sagart 2014 for instance see p. 75. Of course they/you/anyone can come up with ways to connect the star name to 'three' if you are in love with this connection, as so many are… at some point I'll finish and publish my ideas on this etymology, which will begin as always simply call out made-up conventional wisdom…

  30. Chris Button said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 10:20 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith

    三 EMC sam, OC səmː (ə/a ablaut)

    參 EMC ʂim, OC srəːm

    I don't see any particular phonological issue.

    Baxter & Sagart (p.75) seems to be based at least partly (they don't make it clear) on Sagart's (1999) idea that 三 is somehow phonetic in 彤 EMC dawŋ OC ləŋːʷ. But, as I noted above, the oracle-bone inscriptions shows that the phonetic in 彤 was clearly not 三.

  31. Andrew Usher said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 10:57 pm

    The moon can in fact pass through Orion: in the traditional figure, the end of his upraised club. (I have not seen this myself.) But that's a long way from the three-star belt, and it's not likely that any independent tradition would place them under the same name.

    k_over_hbarc at

  32. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 11:05 pm

    @Chris Button then you can of course build a proposal for prefixation/infixation/vowel difference/development of the word 'three' into your dictionary — you would be the first I think to offer anything concrete beyond "the number three… three stars in part of this asterism… should be related." E.g. as you see B&S reconstruct the same onset in the two words on an ad hoc basis.

  33. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 11:10 pm

    @Andrew Usher Well -ish… you can see this literally as we speak here at 30-something degrees north latitude

  34. Chris Button said,

    February 12, 2022 @ 8:37 am

    @ Jonathan Smith

    No particular narrative, it’s just the morphological alternations are no different from those we see across the OC lexicon in other etymologically related words. Unlike others working on Old Chinese, I’m not prepared to speculate on what those morphological explanations might have meant. Suffice to say a schwa/a ablaut, liquid-only medials (evidence for laterals is more restricted but nonetheless avaialble) and syllabic weight (surfacing as length) distinctions are all typologically reasonable.

    That being said, I’m not dismissing your suggestion that 三 and 參 might not be related after all. I just need to see the evidence demonstrating that the phonological and semantic overlap is just coincidental.

  35. Chris Button said,

    February 12, 2022 @ 8:48 am

    Technically, the glides j and w may also be seen as medials but (as clearly shown in Inscriptional Burmese, where the broad distribution relative to restrictions around liquids is more or less comparable) their pedigree is different. That is unless conditioned by a glottal stop as an automatic onset for an original glide onset (hence no j- onsets in Old Chinese: w- has some additional considerations)

  36. Victor Mair said,

    February 12, 2022 @ 10:31 am

    From John Carlyle:

    Lu Fayan seems to have prescribed readings that agree with shēnxiù. First, 參 is under the xiaoyun header 森 (along with 蔘 and 槮, I suppose we could also read it sēn) with the fanqie gloss 所今反 (QYS srim). Although this xiaoyun corresponds to a missing portion of 切三 (S.2071), 參 is glossed as 參辰 in all extant versions of Wang Renxu's 刊謬補缺切韻 and S.6187. I've noticed the earlier manuscripts don't tend to have many glosses, but usually characters with multiple readings will come with a gloss to disambiguate. I suspect this gloss is original.

    宿 as xiù is a bit trickier since the qu tone volume of Qieyun is less well-attested. It does not occur in the xiaoyun 秀 (息救反 sjuwH) in P.3694, but is otherwise found at the end of that homophone list in 刊謬補缺切韻. I've always heard it read as xiù in the opening of 千字文 (日月盈昃,辰宿列張) so I assumed 宿 was usually read this way when referring to stars.

    Very interesting post! I find these types of connections fascinating. I was just reading Shougaito Masahiro's work on Sino-Uyghur earlier this week. He believed that Old Uyghur speakers that worked as translators in the late Tang period might have developed their own system of nativized character readings and a kundoku-like glossing tradition. The phonological basis of it seems sound to me. Some of the Yuan period examples he brought up conserve features of Chinese that look to be much older.

  37. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 12, 2022 @ 10:14 pm

    @ Chris Button "the evidence demonstrating that the phonological and semantic overlap is just coincidental." a demonstration would involve not this per se but simply a better — substantive etymological solution. Re semantics, I mentioned that shen1 參 doesn't mean three anything to begin with; it is easy to understand, though, why it would later have been assumed to. A crucial homophone IMO is mentioned by John Carlyle…

  38. Chris Button said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 8:14 am

    @ Jonathan Smith

    Interesting. I now see where you’re going with this. A rhotic root onset would pull it away from 三 and account for later confusion with it. So now I’ll just have to wait for the rest of the evidence …

  39. Chris Button said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 8:59 am

    Or perhaps 三 originally had a lateral fricative onset that shifted to s-. We could then suggest the usual r ~ l interchange and bring in some of the other words Sagart wants to associate with it (although to be clear again, very much not the phonetic in 彤, which is almost certainly unrelated)

  40. Chris Button said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 9:05 am

    And figuring out when/how pre-OC *sr- gave ʰr- as opposed to sr- is always a challenge.

  41. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 4:17 pm

    Haha, sadly I am "oh-fer" I think in presenting arguments of this kind that you find convincing :D this one is no slam-dunk but at least a tantalizing possibility; I should polish it up and share…

  42. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 7:54 pm

    Re. Chang’e 嫦娥, Chinese goddess of the moon,

    Julie Lee Wei’s paper “Huangdi and Huntun” (Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 163, Oct. 2005, pp. 28-31) maintains that Chang’e 嫦娥 is a conflation of the Greek myths of Selena, moon goddess, and her sister Eos, sun goddess. The story of Chang’e and her lover Di Jun 帝俊 (“God Handsome”) combines motifs from the stories of Selena and her lover Endymion and Eos and her lover Tithonus. The motifs are: driving a chariot across the sky, the quest for immortality, and after immortality being changed into a frog (Chinese) and changed into a cicada (Greek).

  43. Peter Clark said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 4:34 am

    @ Ben @ ~flow

    I’ve written about the gingko example at

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