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Interesting Etymologies 34 : Chinese

"Hello again Word Lovers!" - Long time no see", that is a calque, a phrase that is translated directly from another language. Calque itself is borrowed from French and means "a good copy". Some examples of calques would be:

Flea market from French "a market for small things" (marché aux puces)

Skyscraper being rascacielos in Spanish

The Mouse of a computer is named directly after the animal in many languages

Football is often retained as "football" but it is calqued in Polish as piłka nożna and in Arabic as kurat alqadam (كرة القدم) - foot to ball. (Football is explored more in IE9.2 Cricket & Football)

So, what is the heritage of the calque "long time no see" -

i) Native Americans - from a 1900 book Thirty One Years on the Plains but the more accepted source is:

ii) Mandarin Chinese hǎojiǔ bùjiàn (好久不見) imported back to the UK via the British Navy

Brainwashing : xǐ nǎo (洗腦) to wash the brain - this arose during the Korean war in the 1950s

and was originally used to describe coercive persuasion used under the Maoist government in China, to transform "reactionary" people into "right-thinking" members of the new Chinese social system. The term was a play on words from the Taoist custom of "cleansing / washing the heart / mind" (xǐxīn,洗心) before conducting ceremonies or entering holy places.

The Oxford English Dictionary records the earliest known English-language usage of the word "brainwashing" in an article by a journalist Edward Hunter, in Miami News, published on 24 September 1950.

Paper tiger : zhǐ lǎohǔ (紙老虎) The term refers to something that presents as powerful or threatening but is actually unable to withstand any challenge. The phrase seems to have emerged from before the first Opium war but became internationally known as a slogan used by Mao Zedong when pouring scorn on the United States.

Chopstick is a "half-calque". In the 1690s British sailors partially translated kuázi (fast boys). The first element was a distortion of the Cantonese for urgent. This also leads to another Calque "Chop chop" as an English expression to do something quickly or urgently.

Leaving Calques behind here are some Chinese words that have made their way into English:

Typhoon - Wind from Taiwan

Tycoon - A great nobleman

Ketchup (Still known as Catsup in some countries) from the Chinese koechiap - brine of fish. Originally a fish sauce made from various plant juices. This etymology possibly spreads via the Chinese community in Vietnam in the late 19th century.

Dim Sum - Touches the heart - Chinese style tapas

Feng Shuii - Wind and water

Gung Ho - US Marine Corps Major Evans Carlson spoke in a 1943 interview of trying to build a working spirit like that he had observed in China and told his men of the Chinese Cooperatives motto Gung Ho meaning "working together"

Kumquat & Lychee are both Chinese names for fruit

Tofu & Wok both come directly from Chinese. Tofu comes from Japanese which itself borrowed from Chinese dòfu to mean bean curd or bean ferment. The Wok is a relative new comer to the Chinese kitchen, with evidence suggesting it came in to use around two thousand years ago.

Kung Fu literally means "Skill"

Tai Chi - "Tai" means extreme and "ji" means limit

Kow tow means to knock your head on the floor as a sign of subservience

Find out about Tangram and Yen by listening to the programme via podcast or YouTube.

Sam Pam is a direct translation of Sam - Three; Pam - Boards. A flat bottom river and close coastal boat.

Rickshaw - Actually from Japanese Jinrikisha but this is actually made of a combination of Chinese words: Jin (human) riki (power) sha (vehicle). Charly briefly unveils a Chinese word to emerge from PIE, find out more by listening to the show.

The most obvious has been saved for last, a word used across the world : Tea. Read about the history of tea here. There are variants across the globe and this can often be put down to the root the product took to arrive:

Tea: mostly imported via the sea

Cha/Chai: locations much closer to China reached by land, often by the Silk Road

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

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