Date: 2010-09-30 08:29 am (UTC)
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
From: [personal profile] pne
There are a few other characters that 茄 often appears on menus in company with: 子 (zǐ), 條 (tiáo), and 蕃/番 (fān). 茄子 seems to simply be an emphasis of the egg-like nature of the aubergine, since one of the meanings of 子 is "seed" or "egg"

Hm, I wouldn't say so - I think the 子 is here just being used as a mostly-meaningless suffix to disambiguate it from similarly-pronounced characters and/or to make the one character into a proper "word" (which often have two characters).

You'll note that it's "qiézi" (with neutral tone on the second syllable, as you wrote it) and not "qiézǐ" (with full tone) - another sign (to me) that it's a "light" morpheme (nearly empty semantically) rather than a meaningful second component.

Other such morphemes include 頭 as in 石頭 "stone" and (especially in Peking) 兒.

I think that the use of 子 in compounds is more common in Mandarin, since it has merged more pronunciations than, say, Cantonese (fewer tones, loss of syllable-final stops, no distinction between final -m and -n, etc.), so there are more homophones.

Also, while I can kind of see "seed, egg" in 鼻子 "nose", there's nothing particularly egg-like (or even child-like) about 獅子 "lions" or 椅子 "chairs" (for example).

番茄/蕃茄, on the other hand, doesn't mean "aubergine", but "tomato". I don't know the etymology of this.

zhongwen.com says that 番 used to mean "barbarian", so I suppose the etymology might be "barbarians' eggplant" - similar to the use of 洋 for "European/Western X" as in 洋琴 "ocean qin" for "guitar". It also has 番薯 ("barbarians' potato"?) for "sweet potato, yam".
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