Word of the day – 衛星

weixing/eisei - satellite in Chinese and Japanese

The Chinese word for satellite, 衛星 [卫星] (wèixīng) means literally ‘guard(ing)/defend(ing) star’. When I came across this word the other day while working on a Chinese version of a website, it took me a few moments to work out what it meant. Eventually I deciphered it from the context and the second character, which I knew meant star. The same characters, 衛星, are used in Japanese, but they’re pronounced eisei.

One of the things I like about Chinese is that when you encounter an unfamiliar word, you can often guess its meaning from the meanings of the individual characters.

According to this Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word satellite first appeared in writing in 1548, when it meant “follower or attendant of a superior person”. It comes from, via French, from the Latin satellitem (nom. satelles) “attendant”. It was first used to mean “man-made machinery orbiting the Earth” in 1936, when such things were theoretical. The first artificial satellite, a name used to distinguish them from natural satellites like the moon, was Sputnik 1, which was launched in 1957.

The Welsh word for satellite is lloeren, which comes from lloer, moon. In most of the other languages I’ve checked, the word is satellite or something similar.

This entry was posted in Chinese, English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Word of the day – 衛星

  1. James says:

    I remember a wonderful phrase used by Calvin in the Institutes (in an old translation from the mid C19) calling the church of Rome “satellites of Satan”. The sort of phrase you don´t forget

  2. In Thai, the word for satellite is ดาวเทียม (daow thiem), which is literally, “imitation star.” I always found it funny that the word for satellite shares a common part with the word for powdered milk (ครีมเทียม).

  3. rek says:

    In Korean the word for any kind of satellite is 위성, communication satellites and the like are prefixed with 인공, artificial/man-made: 인공위성. 위성 can be literally translated as “up characteristic” or “above”.