Ideogrammic compound (會意): 网 (“net”) + 貝 (“money cowrie”).
Baxter and Sagart (2014) consider it to be a phono-semantic compound (形聲): abbreviated phonetic 羅 (*rˤaj) + semantic 貝 (“money cowrie”).
Possibly from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *g/m/s-laj ~ *r/s-lej ~ *b-rej (“to buy; to barter”); compare Proto-Karen *breᴬ (“to buy”), Proto-Bodo-Garo *prai¹ (“to buy”), Tibetan རྗེ (rje, “to exchange; to barter”) (Schuessler, 2007; Sagart, 1999, 2011). Benedict (1967, 1972) considers this allofam to be a result of borrowing from Austro-Tai *(m)baḷi several times into Sino-Tibetan languages.
Alternatively, Haudricourt and Strecker (1991) consider 買 and 賣 to be borrowed from Hmong-Mien, which may have a family of verbs related to possession: *mɛjX (“to buy”, corresponding to 買), *mɛjH (“to buy”, corresponding to 賣), *ʔ-mɛj (“to grasp”), *n-mɛj (“to have”) (Ratliff, 2010). However, Sagart (1995) argues that the direction of borrowing is more likely to be from Chinese to Hmong-Mien because Hmong-Mien does not seem to have a suffix that would give rise to the tone in the word for “to buy”. In addition to these two ways of relating the Chinese word to Hmong-Mien, Ratliff (2010) proposes common inheritance as a third option and maintains that more evidence is needed to determine which of the three explanations are correct.
- to buy; to purchase
- 我買了輛新車。 / 我买了辆新车。 ― Wǒ mǎi le liàng xīn chē. ― I bought a new car.
- to bribe
- to persuade
- A surname.
- (to buy): 賣／卖 (mài, “to sell”)
- → Hmong-Mien: *mɛjX (“to buy”)