ch'ilin, qilin, kirin, girin, kylan

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Mon Jun 23 09:39:15 UTC 2014

The online OED and AHD sites do not list the mythological creatures known variously as ch'ilin/qilin/kirin/girin/kylan, giving only the place name for Kirin. All can be written with Chinese characters as 麒麟. See for source scripts.

The kirin at probably much better known in the English-speaking world from its depiction on Kirin beer bottles. Like many Chinese mythological creatures, it has a real counterpart, the giraffe.

Doug Wilson suggests in 2002 ( that "kirin" should at least be considered English for the mythological creature.

Here are citations for various spellings:

1. ch'ilin (Chinese) - 1910
"The Art Journal" has "ch'ilin" in 1910 (based on the front matter): "And in general the classic masters of China, like that fabulous animal of the East, the Ch'ilin, “tread so lightly that they leave no footprint, so tenderly that they crush no living thing." (

2. qilin (Chinese pinyin) - 1980
Wiktionary has 1989 for qilin (the kirin citations are all qilin):

Although qilin is in "Chinese Rubbings" supposedly in 1900 (, pinyin wasn't yet invented and WorldCat gives a best guess of 1982 ( FWIW, it says: "Qiling (The qilin is a fabulous animal sometimes translated as the unicorn.)"

I see "qilin" in "Fifteen Cities in China" in 1980: "Bronze qilin, mythical Chinese animal." (

3. kirin (Japanese) - 1798
For kirin, I see "The Oriental Collections: Consisting Of Original Essays And Dissertations...": "The Phœnix of Japan is called Kirin, fays Herbelot, which is the Cruin or cycle of our Druids." (

4. kirin (Korean) - 1984
The Korean word kirin/girin is also in English but is more recent. "Confucian Rituals in Korea" has it: "The legendary ch'i-lin (Korean kirin), a stag-like creature, is also a frequently used symbol in east Asia." (

5. girin (Korean) - 2003
"Goryeo Dynasty: Korea's Age of Enlightenment, 918-1392: "On the lid is an auspicious animal, either a unicorn or girin (Chinese: qilin), seated while raising its head with an open mouth." (

6. kylan (Vietnamese) - 2003
"Art of Vietnam": "The four-clawed dragon with a Kylan carrying a bundle and a saber thus symbolized the Trinh, protectors of the arts and of the army." ( 

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

Learn Ainu!
The American Dialect Society -

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